Murder and politics collide in Johnston’s seventh Scottish mystery, Skeleton Blues: A Quint Dalrymple Mystery.

What led you to set a series in Scotland decades from now?

I had written three non-crime novels in the early 1990s—they got reasonably good feedback, but no publishing deal. Then my agent suggested I write something I enjoyed reading, and I started planning a detective novel set in my native city of Edinburgh, but I just couldn’t get it to come together. The problem was that I was living on a small Greek island and was out of the loop as regards contemporary Scotland. Then it struck me—set the book in the future.

How did you go about doing that?

It was easier said than done. You can’t just go forward 25 years without changing the social and political backdrop. So I spent two months planning a society that was as different as possible from pre-Blair Britain—though not so alien as to be unrecognizable. Edinburgh became an independent city-state based on Platonic principles, governed by an intellectual elite. Citizens are guaranteed work, housing, food, lifelong education, and a weekly sex session; but cars, smoking, TV, popular computers, and personal phones are banned. It’s supposed to be a benevolent dictatorship, and there’s no crime. Then somebody gets murdered.

What was your biggest challenge?

The hardest thing initially was the narrative voice. I originally wrote in the third person, which was pretty dumb. The protagonist, Quint Dalrymple, is a maverick private eye, and I needed to tell the stories in the classic, wisecracking first-person voice beloved of Raymond Chandler and the great noir writers. So I rewrote the draft using Quint’s voice and the novel took off. Of course, there are some major drawbacks to writing in the first person. It can become wearing, as well as self-aggrandizing. Self-deprecating humor helps tone that down. Limiting the narrative to only one point of view means that there’s a restricted perspective to the action—Quint has to be there to bring scenes alive, and what he doesn’t see has to be reported.

How important is plausibility for the series?

I’m not sure plausibility is so important in novels, at least in terms of the “real” world, whatever that might be. What does matter is internal consistency—does the book create its own logic and stick to it? Then again, I do deal with serious social and political issues, so there needs to be a degree of credible thinking. The idea of Edinburgh as an independent city-state obviously plays with Scottish independence. When I started writing the series, there was little talk of Scotland breaking away from the U.K. In recent years it’s become a major issue, to the extent that I wouldn’t rule out independence in the next 10 years.