IF searching for a unifying theme in this year’s Inverness Book Festival, you could hardly do better than look to Scottish writer Peter May.
Asked why his Lewis-set crime story "The Blackhouse" had become a bestseller years after being roundly rejected by all British publishers and his US agent, May suggested the boom in interest in Scandinavian crime fiction might have played a part.
Readers and publishers were now showing more of an interest in "cold places where dark deeds are done".
And among the novelist guests at the Inverness Courier sponsored festival there were plenty of cold places and dark deeds to choose from.
English visitor David Hewson is now out to beat the Scandinavians at their own game. Having set previous thrillers in the warmth of the Mediterranean, notably his Rome set Nic Costa series soon to be filmed for Italian television, he was picked to turn hit Danish television series "The Killing" into a novel.
"Most of my books are set in the Mediterranean where people are warm and outgoing," he pointed out.
"Even when things are bad, they are not gloomy. Then you go to Copenhagen where the weather is dark and cold and the people are miserable..."
It is a change of temperament he might not have been able to tackle without previously taking on Scotland’s most famous fictional dark deeds when he and a fellow writer adapted Shakespeare’s "Macbeth". That became an audio-novel narrated by Tayside-born actor Alan Cumming — whom one online reviewer lambasted for his "terrible Scottish accent". "You can’t win," Hewson sighed.
Writing about dour medieval Scots apparently as good training for writing about morose Scandinavians, while the audio book has sold well in its own right.
"‘Macbeth’ has gone so well that they’ve now asked us to do ‘Hamlet’," Hewson revealed.
"So I’m going to be back in Copenhagen with gloomy Danes again. I never thought of that!"
Highland author Shona MacLean stays closer to home in place if not time for her dark deeds, using 17th century Scotland and Ireland as the setting for her historical thrillers. Maybe she also has cause to grateful to the Scandinavian crimewave, though.
When her first book was published it was with a small publisher. Now, after acquiring the English language rights for Stieg "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" Larsson, it is quite a big publisher.
On the other hand, Karin Altenberg — the only Scandinavian to make the festival after popstar turned poet Johan Holmlund cancelled — appears to have mixed feelings about the vogue for Nordic crime.
It is not a topic she tackles herself. Her novel "Island of Wings" is set on St Kilda in the 19th century where her only concession to crime is the acquisition of a blanket by a girl with no concept of theft.
After being congratulated on "liberating" St Kilda from the only story anyone seemed to know about the island, its evacuation in the 1930s, one audience member hoped she would do the same and liberate her homeland of Sweden from the dominance of crime in English translation.
Altenberg seemed to agree.
I’m not saying they are not good crime books, but there are so many great writers who are not translated," Altenberg responded.
Move south from Sweden and you arrive at Germany’s Baltic coast, the setting of the debut novel from Ayrshire writer Kenneth Macleod.
His book "The Incident" had its own share of dark deeds thanks mainly to a plot strand about East Germany’s Stasi, which probably left Saturday’s audience knowing more than they wanted to about secret police interrogation techniques.
Perhaps the most self-consciously literary of the festival’s novelist guests, the one-time student of poet laureate Andrew Motion was comfortable with the term "expressionist" and comparisons with Camus and Satre, admitting: "I wanted to write an existentialist novel that people who might run away from the word ‘existentialist’ would read."
Among the non-fiction writers there was disappointment when historian Tom Devine pulled out of his planned event, set to be the last of this year’s festival.
There was some unscheduled excitement when an member of the audience collapsed at the event featuring Raigmore midwife turned author Maria Anderson — though as her audience was composed of several fellow nurses, it was probably the least worst place for such an incident.
With the line up rounded off by climbing writer Cameron McNeish, broadcaster Mark Stephen and minister turned newspaper columnist Ron Ferguson on his friend poet George Mackay Brown, the Book Festival again offered a diverse range of writers.
However, the absence of anyone this year to fill the gap between toddlers — catered for by Eden Court’s popular Bookbugs and Swinging Stories sessions — is something that will hopefully be filled in next year’s programme.
It would also be nice to think that future visiting authors will get the audience numbers they deserve.
Though not unrespectable, there could certainly have been better attendances for the likes of David Hewson’s wide ranging and always interesting chat as he bemoaned the "grubbiness" of certain aspects of the modern publishing industry or praised the generosity of "The Killing’s" creators for letting him turn their story into novel form.
As for Peter May, he proved as good a storyteller in person as he was on the page, whether talking about coming face to face with the autopsied corpse of a Chinese execution victim or coping with filming on Lewis in gale force winds.
But one should not feel too sorry for him — at least not after he revealed that research for his series about Scottish-Italian scientist Enzo Macleod involved intensive research in France’s top vineyards and restaurants.
You need to balance out those cold places and dark deeds, after all.