Oh, Inspector McLean. How I have missed thee. I know I hide it well, but it is a little known fact that I am a huge fan of this series. Little known if you have never met me, never read my blog or basically live on another planet that is. This is the series of books which pulled me back into reading, which instilled my renewed love of the crime genre and which, in a roundabout fashion, got me hooked on Stuart MacBride’s books took. This series has cost me a couple of bob over the years. So I am super excited when a new book is published, and having had this on preorder for months, I was delighted to be able to finally read it. I’ll share my thoughts on the book in a moment, but first, because I know you are all dying to know, let’s take a look at what the book is all about.
The Official Book Blurb
THE DEAD DEMAND VENGEANCE in the ALL-NEW compelling novel in the BESTSELLING Inspector McLean series.
A truck driver loses control in central Edinburgh, ploughing into a crowded bus stop and spilling his vehicle’s toxic load. The consequences are devastating.
DI Tony McLean witnesses the carnage. Taking control of the investigation, he soon realises there is much that is deeply amiss – and everyone involved seems to have something to hide.
But as McLean struggles to uncover who caused the tragedy, a greater crisis develops: the new Chief Superintendent’s son is missing, last seen in the area of the crash . . .
It is another little known fact about me (it actually is this time) but when I was a nipper, so many many decades ago, I was somewhat obsessed with horror stories and movies and I would lap up anything and everything paranormal or vampire, spook or monster related. That is something I do less of these days but is part of the reason I was drawn to the Inspector McLean stories. They sit just on the other side of your standard police procedural, with something more than just the story at hand always on the periphery. Some of my favourites in the series walk that fine line perfectly, and The Gathering Dark is one such book, making it perhaps one of my favourites. There is something, as the title would suggest, quite dark about this book. Madame Rose can feel it. Tony McLean can feel it. But just what, be it animal, vegetable, mineral or otherwise, remains to be seen.
Unwittingly forced into action at the scene of a catastrophic tanker crash in the heart of the city, DI Tony McLean finds himself charged with investigating the cause of the RTC, and the origin of the contents of the tanker, a chemical which has as great an impact upon the victims as the crash itself. So much so it renders identification of some of the victims almost impossible. Whatever the tanker had been carrying, it wasn’t what was manifested and finding out not only the source but the destination, will cause untold misery for many, McLean included.
To anyone reading this book, the idea of a vehicle crashing with such devastating consequences would be a hard thing to read. It is not without precedence unfortunately, and as a Transport Manager myself, I know the amount of devastation that RTCs can cause both directly and indirectly. But beyond this, James Oswald has added a layer of real danger, adding to the confusion and tension of the piece. And this is where reading this book almost became like a busman’s holiday to me. Not in a bad way I must add, but it was an element of the book that I can absolutely relate to. ADR legislation – carriage of dangerous chemicals to the lay person – and the relevant tanker markings, dangerous goods notes (DGNs), manifests and all other route planning and required notifications … Argh … This is all stuff I am currently working on at work. A side note and not especially relevant to this review, but I can tell you that everything in this book rings true. Very much so.
Now if this was simply the story of a lorry crash in central Edinburgh, as devastating as that would be, it wouldn’t feel like an Inspector McLean novel. Not really. And true to form it doesn’t stop there. James Oswald has taken a simple story and kicked it up a notch. What starts out as a mere accident takes a sinister turn as someone seeks revenge upon the owner of the business which operates the tanker . The circumstances are suspicious but not conclusive, but as to who stood to gain from what happened, if indeed it was more than an mere accident, is not necessarily clear.
From here on in the story starts to take a very dark turn. More incidents linked to the crash, and the overwhelming stench of a cover up, a stench much stronger than even the chemicals which have damaged all they touch. Beyond the corruption rife throughout this investigation, beyond the devastating death toll, you have two elements to the story which add both mystery and a growing sense of unease. Firstly the disappearance of the Chief Superintendent’s son. Victim of the crash or entirely unconnected? Then there is also the unknown voice. A young man who left the scene of the crash and yet who is seeking his own kind of vengeance. His story goes way beyond that of the crash itself and is as harrowing as as the constantly evolving investigation.
One thing really makes these stories for me it the strength of the characters who carry them. McLean is a fantastic character, as caring about justice as he is for his friends and family. He has no time for corruption or injustice and he will stop at nothing to find the truth, even if it puts his life in danger, something which happens all too often. But he has strong support around him, once again aided in his investigation by DS ‘Grumpy Bob’ Laird and DC Janie Harrison. I love Grumpy Bob. So understated, so laid back, so unwittingly efficient without seeming to do anything at all. And Janie is young, enthusiastic and a perfect complement to McLean in terms of her tenacity and resolve. Take it beyond the immediate investigation team, outside of the squad room, and McLean is backed up by a who raft of people, from Madame Rose to his partner, and mother of his unborn child, Emma. Even Mrs McCutcheon’s Cat is as unique and important a part of the story as any other. I wouldn’t be the same without them.
But when you look beyond all of that, of the camaraderie, the humour, even the pain which they share and support each other through there is no denying the developing sense of menace which permeates the story. With each page you can feel the skin begin to prickle, the sense of the unspoken, unseen threat which is ever present. There is a clever use of not only the elements, but also setting to create this sensation, as well as the reappearance of some rather unusual tokens of an ominous nature. You would have to read to understand but when they appear, nothing good is set to happen. And the ever-growing darkness, be it felt through McLean’s recurring nightmares or the ominous warnings of Madame Rose, there is an almost electric undercurrent which keeps the reader on edge. Knowing that something is not quite right but never being able to pur your finger on it. That feeling of something … else. Something that cannot quite be articulated but you just know it is there. Lurking. This … this is what makes this a terribly hard book to review and do justice but is also what really makes me love it.
That and the transport element. No denying, rightly or (mostly) wrongly, that part did make me smile. Not the crash, that was a tragedy, just the simple fact that it brought this story worryingly close to home.
If you love the Inspector McLean series then you will love this. Highly, highly recommended. So much so, I know that it’s going to be in my top reads of 2018. This book takes the series back to what sets it apart from others for me. What makes it something more than just another police procedural. Something special. Something that deserves one of these …
If you haven’t read any of these books before, do yourself a favour and go and grab Natural Causes, the book where is all started. Think of all the fun you can have as you journey through to this one, book number eight. If you are a wise reader and up to date, then you can get your own copy of The Gathering Dark from the following retailers.