RogerBW's Blog

Natural Causes, James Oswald 20 May 2015

2012 mystery, first in Oswald's Inspector McLean series. A prominent city elder in Edinburgh is killed, but less than a day later his killer commits a public and messy suicide. Case closed, and the police are happy. But McLean won't let it lie, especially when the same thing happens again.

As with The Book of Souls, this is police procedural with a light supernatural element. And that's a fine line to walk: as Larry Niven wrote about SF detective stories, you need to establish the ground rules or the mystery doesn't work at all. That's something Oswald does well here: while it's clear that he intends the narrative to include a supernatural component, the mystery is still solved by police work rather than by magic.

Yes, there is a lot of cliché, much of it based round McLean himself: unusual wealth, stupid blundering superior, tragic past and love life, reputation for getting the job done, and so on. Forensic procedure is based more on television than on real-world practices. And McLean is rather slow to work out the connections between the various incidents that come to his attention; that pacing is a hard thing to get right, but if there must be an error I'd rather be left feeling under-informed than have spotted things very early on and had to wait for the protagonist to catch up. In particular, a principal villain is very blatantly signalled.

But even so, McLean is a sympathetic character (though he would doubtless try hard to avoid it); he may be clichéd but they're clichés that work and give him a solid personality; and I enjoy visiting his world even when it's soaked in gore. (The opening chapter is not for those with a weak stomach, but nonetheless it contains important clues.)

Followed by The Book of Souls.

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