Cosmopolitan Scum

Brian Hogg

Nova Mob Ink, £14.99

“Per capita, there were probably more freaks in Edinburgh than there were in London.” Record producer Joe Boyd said that, and Brian Hogg’s essential tome proves how right he was. A history of Edinburgh counterculture from 1947, the year of the first Festival, Cosmopolitan Scum looks behind the sedate exterior to a vibrant, even raucous, alternative culture. From poetry journals to independent singles, Hogg covers it all. A forgotten generation of beat groups rubs up against experimental theatre. The early-60s drug scene, centred on a now-demolished Chambers Street tenement, co-exists uneasily with a thriving folk movement. Names like Alexander Trocchi and Jim Haynes gradually give way to the Shop Assistants and Neu! Reekie. Among other things, it’s a story of local conflicts: of radicals against traditionalists, artists outraging councillors, working-class groups pushing against the establishment. But while celebrating the uniqueness of Edinburgh’s scene, Hogg dispels any sense of parochialism by emphasising its connectedness to an international network of creativity and dissent.

Sins of the Fathers

Les Cowan

Lion Hudson, £8.99

After serving seven years in a Spanish prison for the sex crimes he committed as a priest, Ramon has emerged, blinking in the sunlight. Resentful towards the church for, as he sees it, betraying him, he starts to kill the witnesses whose evidence put him behind bars. One remains, now living far away in Edinburgh, but Ramon is so intent on revenge that distance is no object. This is the third of Les Cowan’s novels about David Hidalgo, a Spanish-born pastor who helps solve the occasional crime, and it highlights the multicultural nature of the capital. Hidalgo is surrounded by Spanish, Italians and Asian Ugandans, making himself useful to the international community – one of whom, he discovers, has been targeted by the murderous former priest. Keeping a close eye on the city’s geography so that we always know where we are, Cowan spins an engrossing, suspenseful yarn in which spiritual themes are noticeably more prominent than in a regular thriller.

Happiness, As Such

Natalia Ginzburg

Daunt Books, £9.99

It’s the early 1970s, and Michele has fled to London from Rome, his radical politics making it too dangerous for him to continue living there. His father, meanwhile, is dying, and a woman has turned up on the family’s doorstep with a baby that might be Michele’s. As his sisters tend to their grieving mother, Ginzburg examines the dynamic of a family pulling together in the face of a crisis. Written largely in the form of letters from Michele’s family and friends, this might take a few chapters to get into, as it isn’t always clear at first who’s narrating. Michele himself is the most shadowy presence, the one whose letters give least away, but ultimately each voice rings out clearly. Originally published in Italian in 1973, this has been the most popular of Ginzburg’s novels, and it’s easy to see why as the author explores the bonds holding a family together with blunt pragmatism but great warmth and humour.