Friday, 26 September 2014

Mini-view: Natural Causes (Inspector McLean #1) - James Oswald

A young girl's mutilated body is discovered in a sealed room. Her remains are carefully arranged, in what seems to have been a cruel and macabre ritual, which appears to have taken place over 60 years ago. 
For newly appointed Edinburgh Detective Inspector Tony McLean this baffling cold case ought to be a low priority - but he is haunted by the young victim and her grisly death. 
Meanwhile, the city is horrified by a series of bloody killings. Deaths for which there appears to be neither rhyme nor reason, and which leave Edinburgh's police at a loss. 
McLean is convinced that these deaths are somehow connected to the terrible ceremonial killing of the girl, all those years ago. It is an irrational, almost supernatural theory. 
And one which will lead McLean closer to the heart of a terrifying and ancient evil . . .

What you might not know is that as well as loving romance novels I also love a good crime novel. Being a Scot I also have a really big soft spot for the wonderfully dubbed 'Tartan Noir'. James Oswald is a name that I'd heard a lot in relation to this sub-genre so when I saw the first of his Inspector McLean novels in the library I couldn't help but grab it.

Oswald is now a firmly established author, the fourth in his Inspector McLean series having come out just earlier this year, but to me he's fresh off the press and this shows in Natural Causes.

What I love about Tartan Noir is the way in which the author manages to capture the city of choice so completely, often meaning that the city becomes a character in its own right. MacBride and Rankin, admittedly two of my favourites in this genre, are excellent at this. McLean is likely to draw some unflattering comparisons with Rankin, both having chosen Edinburgh as their setting. Unfortunately, in some respects, I think these are deserved in the case of Natural Causes.

Despite having lived near Edinburgh for a number of years (yes, I read author's bios) Oswald doesn't really do the city much justice, there's not much characterisation and little detail about the city added that couldn't have been pulled of Wikipedia. I also didn't really enjoy the supernatural element to Natural Causes, I know that this is clearly indicated in the synopsis of the novel but it did really seem to mesh well with the rest of the book. If you're going to include a supernatural element it really can't be tacked in there, it has to be well established.

However, I really did enjoy Oswald's characters and they show excellent promise, and, let's be honest, the characters are the most important part of a book anyway. Whilst I didn't love Natural Causes I didn't hate it either and am really looking forward to reading the next in the series.

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