What Will Burn by James Oswald

Today it is my absolute pleasure to be sharing my thoughts on the latest Inspector McLean novel from James Oswald, What Will Burn. I have loved this series from the beginning, it was one of the series that drew me back to reading after over a decade away, and it is always one of the highlights of my reading year. Sadly I won’t get to (not) stalk Mr Oswald this year at a book launch because of the dreaded C-19, but getting a sneak early read of the book goes some way towards making up for it. And this is my 2000th blog post so double the reason to be happy and celebrate today 🎉🎉. My thanks to Antonia Whitton and Wildfire Books who kindly provided the advance copy for review. Here’s what the book is all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy

About the Book

The eleventh book in the Sunday Times-bestselling Inspector McLean series, from one of Scotland’s most celebrated crime writers.

The charred remains of an elderly woman are discovered in a burned-out game-keepers cottage, hidden away in woodland to the west of Edinburgh. Clearly no accidental fire, Detective Inspector Tony McLean suspects that neither is this simply a grim arson attack. There is far more to the victim than her humble surroundings might suggest, and something ritualistic to her horrific murder.

Nor will it be the only case of death by fire that Tony and his team will be faced with. This is only the beginning, and with such evil clouding the air, Tony begins to wonder what else will burn . . .

My Thoughts

I am writing this review, fresh off the back of finishing the book. Most unusual for me these days, but then that is the nature of these books. I am always left with a complete sense of satisfaction and I want to be able to share that with my friends and fellow book lovers. Now, as this review goes, it will be nearly four weeks old when you actually read it (assuming you do) but know this – I am writing this review with a very big smile on my face. I loved this book. Devoured it in a single day, another rarity for me of late, and I am left with only one regret. That I may have finished it too quickly and it’s a bloody long time until book twelve will be in my needy little hands.

If you have read any of the previous Inspector McLean novels at all, then you will know that this is no ordinary Detective fiction. On a basic level, yes, this is a story of a police investigation into a potential murder. Or potentially an accidental fire. As readers we know the truth as we are cast as the voyuer when the event occurs, but for the police it is not quite so obvious or straightforward. At least not in the beginning. But the thing is, when it comes to a case that is going to reside with the Specialist Crime Division in Edinburgh (think CID with a PR spin), particularly anything that ends up on the desk of Detective Inspector Tony McLean, there really is no such thing as a straightforward death. To quote the characters themselves, everything is always just a little ‘weird’.

Now I don’t want to give any spoilers for the story, and the main premise of it will be apparent very early on in the book, believe me, but it is fair to say that James Oswald’s novels always have an element of the otherworldly or supernatural about them, and this one is no different. Readers are treated to not just one ‘weird’ death but several, all of which made me smile. The manner of dispatch is certainly original, and whilst the act of murder is kept largely off the page, at least after the opening scenes, there is no doubting what has happened and why each of the victims was a target.

I love that this series gives us such a broad range of characters. From the colourful and larger than life Madame Rose, whose presence in a novel almost always precedes something a little out of the ordinary, through to McLean’s police colleagues (Grumpy Bob is back – love Grumpy Bob!), we are always faced with people we can root for and people who we (I) would cheerfully throttle. This time we are faced with two very different but equally predatory characters who will make your blood boil. One is on the side of good (allegedly) but their ambition, flirtation and seniority put McLean in a very difficult position. The other is most definitely on the side of wrong, a misogynistic and vile character who I struggled to find one redeeming quality in at all. But both were compelling to read about for different, but ultimately more or less the same, reasons. And not only are we faced with these two, for want of a better term, bullies, but we also meet some faces from the past, the return of at least one of which nearly always spells bad news for McLean. I love that the author has chosen to keep his two police series largely apart but still within the same worlds meaning that characters are able to traverse the two series. Not our main protagonists perhaps, but certainly those who inhabit and inform their lives.

One of the key aspects of this book which I really liked, and given the nature of the backstory it makes perfect sense, was seeing Janie Harrison really beginning to take centre stage. This is a story which very much has the role of women, both historically and in the here and now, professionally and otherwise, at its heart. Harrison is someone who has grown immensely as a character over the course of the past few books and changes at the top give her the opportunity to prove her worth in an acting DS role. There are elements of the story, especially the ending, that made me wonder just how we may see this, and Harrison’s character, develop moving forward. There is certainly the promise of more, and that is what I love about this series. The fact that whilst we are treated to a solid and intriguing police investigation, the drama, the tension, the pitch perfect pacing, there is always that ‘other‘ layer on top. The sense that there is something more than most of the characters will accept and understand, no matter how much of the ‘weird‘ they see whilst working for McLean. And there is always plenty of the ‘weird‘.

When my sister reads this book she will understand why it made me smile so much. Why it ticked the boxes for me and why I most definitely think that my mother would have approved. It would have made her chuckle too. I can’t say exactly why this hit the spot without leaving what I think would be a bit of a spoiler, but if you read the book carefully you will understand the subtext and how this book is still as strong a social commentary as any of its predecessors, in a way which engaged me and gave me exactly the kind of entertaining escapism I needed. So yes – I’m giving it one of these, a red hot read badge, as, for me, this was exactly the kind of read I love. I hope you do too.

About the Author

James Oswald is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling Inspector McLean series of detective mysteries, as well as the new DC Constance Fairchild series. James’s first two books, NATURAL CAUSES and THE BOOK OF SOULS, were both short-listed for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award. BURY THEM DEEP is the tenth book in the Inspector Mclean Series. James farms Highland cows and Romney sheep by day, writes disturbing fiction by night.

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