‘Natural Causes’ by James Oswald (@SirBenfro)

I can’t recall how I came upon this series but I am mighty glad that I did. Having just been back through this novel for the second time in readiness for the new release at the end of the month, I can happily say it has lost none of the appeal it had for me on our first outing,

Natural Causes introduces the character of Detective Inspector Anthony McLean. It opens upon a rather grisly murder which sets the tone for the rest of the story. You can tell from the offset that McLean is an intelligent, diligent detective with a good intuition, who for some reason has fallen foul of his superior office DCI Duguid or Dagwood as he is less affectionately known. This sets us up nicely for an ongoing tension and conflict throughout the book, making McLean’s job just that little bit harder than it really needs to be, and giving the reader just another reason to feel a little affection for our put upon hero.

The story itself centers around the murder of several prominent business men, with no immediately apparent link between them or the people who kill them. In amongst the ongoing investigations, McLean and his team of DS ‘Grumpy Bob’ Laird and DC Stuart MacBride are handed the rather dubious pleasure of investigating the 60 year old murder of a young unknown woman, discovered in a house which is being renovated. Throw in a succession of burglaries and the disappearance of another teenager and stage is set for a most challenging investigation.

What sets this story apart from your common or garden police procedural, and what gave it that edge for me, is an undercurrent of the supernatural, the sense that all of the players in this game might not be quite who, or what, they appear to be. Visiting clairvoyant, Madame Rose, McLean is given a clear understanding that to solve these particular cases he will have to look beyond what can be seen by the naked eye and trust in his instincts that something far more sinister is afoot. It is also clear that McLean’s past is not as he thought it to be, with the promise of a secret yet to be revealed. It is the element of the supernatural which I really enjoyed as I was brought up on Scottish Ghost stories and Steven King novels. Think some of the less conspiracy theory episodes of the X-Files and you have a flavour of what you might be facing. If you don’t think this is what you are looking for, I’d say give it a whirl anyway. You may surprise yourself.

The writing is solid, the story moves along at a fast pace and the descriptions of Edinburgh and the surrounds had me reminiscing over many a summer spent drip drying in an old tent in Mortonhall. McLean is a character who is easy to like and the supporting characters lend their own colour to the story. I have to be honest and say that after reading all five of the books, and even rereading them now, I am not entirely sure I know what it is that McLean looks like. The story is largely told from his point of view and to be fair I don’t know about you but as a rule I don’t go around thinking about how I look to myself much either. I know how old McLean is, I know about his past and that he looks like his father but beyond that… Maybe that’s part of the appeal. This way he is whoever you want him to be.

A great story and it really hooked me. If you haven’t read it yet – what are you waiting for?

5 Grisly Stars