Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review of Natural Causes by James Oswald (Penguin, 2012)

Newly promoted Detective Inspector Tony McLean has been living his life in limbo.  His finacee died a couple of years ago and his grandmother, who raised him since he was four after the death of his parents, has been in a coma for 18 months.  Travelling home one evening he spots flashing blue lights outside a house and stops to offer assistance.  A prominent city resident has been murdered, but the investigation is in hand and he’s sent on his way.  The following day he’s called to a building site where the body of a young girl has been discovered, apparently murdered in a strange ritual some sixty years previously.  McLean is oddly affected by the case and makes it his priority, despite being drawn back into the first case as pressure within his station mounts.  Then there’s a breakthrough with the killer seemingly found having taken his own life, only for a very similar murder to happen shortly afterwards.  Against his rationality, McLean suspects some link between the long dead girl, the deaths, and the supernatural, and with the death toll mounting he and his colleagues are under pressure to solve the case.

Natural Causes in the first book in the Detective McLean series set in Edinburgh.  The tale is a police procedural thriller with a supernatural bent.  Oswald has an engaging voice and he keeps the pace and action high, with plenty of twists and turns and a fair dose of emotional heart-tugging with respect to McLean’s personal life.  McLean is the typical wounded cop and Oswald quickly has you on his side, and there is a decent amount of character development as the story unfolds.  His colleagues are also nicely penned and there’s a good sense of place with Edinburgh forming the backdrop.  The plot is an entertaining yarn as long as one can suspend disbelief, with the procedural elements as much a fantasy as the supernatural heart of the tale.  Nonetheless, the story rattles along, with the body count rising as it makes its way to its denouement.  I’ll certainly be checking out the next book in the series, The Book of Souls.

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