Writing under the pen name Simpson Grears, Society member Ian Spring has published a book of crime stories set in Edinburgh featuring ‘the wee dram detective’ Hamish McDavitt. The super sleuth can often be found at The Vaults, solving puzzling crimes with the benefit of a Society single malt. Unfiltered caught up with Ian to find out more about his creation
Where did the inspiration come from for the character of Hamish McDavitt?
The truth is I cannot quite remember. I’ve been asked if he is based on myself (definitely not) and, because of the name ‘Hamish’, on my old friend Hamish Henderson, the great Edinburgh scholar. That wasn’t what I had in mind either. I think he is a composite character but one thing that is clear is that he is a scholar – a historian and book lover – because that is part of the character of Edinburgh and the people I knew in Edinburgh.
Hamish is a devoted member of the SMWS, tell us about your own association with the Society and reflections on The Vaults
Quite some time ago I lived just round the corner from Pip Hills, one of the founders of the SMWS. I remember his flat and his unusual vintage car. Around that time, I worked at Queen Margaret College where we set up the short-lived Centre for Scottish Cultural Studies. Along with the film critic Colin McArthur I arranged an event in The Vaults which was attended by quite a few of the Scottish literati. Subsequently I was a member of the SMWS for some time and quite often popped into The Vaults for lunch or a game of chess. The character of the place seemed quite in keeping with my vision of the world of Hamish McDavitt, so it was quite fitting for him to be a member of the Society. Also, I had originally come up with the idea of the ‘wee dram detective’ who could solve a mystery whilst indulging in a malt. That is how the combination was born.
His descriptions of various whiskies are very much in the spirit of the Society's tasting notes…were they an inspiration?
I refer to several malt whiskies in the stories – mostly those I like myself. The descriptions that are built into the stories are somewhat similar to tasting descriptions that the SMWS would use, but I have exercised poetic licence with some of them to make them a little more fanciful!
The book is very much in the history of 'classic' detective stories – what appealed to you about that style, rather than the more modern and grisly 'tartan noir' genre?
I’m quite familiar with the genre of tartan noir and I am a contemporary of Ian Rankin, but I never particularly wanted to write in that style. You could argue that many of the police procedural detective stories are character-based. Possibly because of my academic background I wanted each story to be very much based around a puzzle, a mystery, an enigma. That is what attracted me to the classical golden age detective stories of Agatha Christie and others. I also particularly liked the short story format – each bite-sized story offers the reader a challenge with the solution and the denouement at the end of each. Having said that, coming up with a different plot for each story was quite a challenge! Many of them however, are generic and will be familiar to detective story enthusiasts – for example, the ‘locked room’ story model.
The book reads very much like a love letter to Edinburgh, its history, its architecture, its people and its pubs...what does the city mean to you?
I often say that I have dual nationality, as I have lived almost equal periods of my life in Glasgow and Edinburgh! (For the last few years I’ve lived in Perth in central Scotland). However, I’ve always been fascinated by history and architecture. When I discovered Edinburgh as a teenager I was fascinated by its history and had to investigate all its nooks and crannies. So, The Foot of the Walk Murders is a sort of love letter to the city of Edinburgh and its people and places. Quite a few people I have known feature in the book, some thinly disguised but quite recognisable to my coterie of friends. Sadly, quite a few are no longer around. The places that feature in the book are real in most cases. Some still exist and some are gone. The period in which the book is set is a little uncertain – it is a sort of timeless nostalgic version of Edinburgh roughly from the period I lived there.
Will we hear more from Hamish McDavitt or any more whisky-inspired fiction?
Hamish McDavitt will be returning next year in a full-length novel set not only in Edinburgh but also in the Highlands of Scotland. Here is a taste:
The Munro Murders
‘Hold on, what exactly are Munros?’ asked Detective Inspector Nigel Stonelaw.
‘Oh, that’s obvious. They’re Scottish mountains over 3000 feet high,’ replied Hamish McDavitt.
‘And you say that three murders have been committed on the three biggest, and that someone might be responsible for them all?’ ‘Yes.’ Stonelaw’s brow was creased.
‘And how many of these Munros are there altogether?’
‘Two hundred and eighty two.
’ ‘Good God,’ said Stonelaw, that would be the most serial killings since… since… ‘ And further words completely failed him.