RogerBW's Blog

The Hangman's Song, James Oswald 23 July 2015

2014 mystery, third in Oswald's Inspector McLean series. Bodies are found hanging in their homes in Edinburgh, apparently suicides. But how did they all come to do it in just the same way at the same time?

I'm really rather getting to like this series. McLean is still a decent detective who's severely messed up on a personal level, and drops the ball here several times for the latter reasons both in his own thinking and in his management of his team, gradually coming to realise how much of his idiot superior's ranting at him might actually have some basis in reality. Most of the policemen who know of him dislike him, especially now when a third copper he's been assigned to work with dies in a slightly odd way, but his core investigation team, the people who've actually worked with him, still appreciate his ability to spot connections and chase up correlations.

That said, I'm clearly able to reverse-engineer Oswald's thinking: as before with his work, I spotted the killer on first appearance, and was never in any doubt about how things would turn out thereafter. So the book didn't really satisfy that mystery-solving urge which is the reason I read mysteries in the first place. On the other hand there's a B plot which connects to ongoing events in the series and ties back to the A plot (I don't want to reveal major plot elements from Book of Souls never mind this one), there are as always other investigations which take time away from the one that seems most important to the reader, and there's that lush and I think deliberately overblown writing style that imbues the most trivial things with a sense of rot and importance:

The Captain's Rest sounded more like the name of a seaside pub than a place you'd buy bits and pieces for your yacht. There was no mistaking what it was once you approached the place, though. Stacked on the pavement outside the door, rolls of blue nylon rope, buoys, wicker lobster pots for the tourist trade and heavy ironmongery dared the casual thief to have a go. The windows displayed more expensive and easily pocketed equipment, shielded from the sun by a thin film of rumpled yellow cellophane on the inside of the glass. If you wanted to buy a dead wasp, this was clearly the place to come, too.

There is a magical element to these investigations, and it's growing stronger, but McLean himself still doesn't believe in things he can't see, and nothing in the plot relies on the reality of the magic. McLean's constant battles with his immediate superior are getting a bit old by now, and seem to form a major refrain here; I hope they're toned down a bit in future.

This all runs at something of a slower pace than the previous books, and I would very much not recommend starting the series here: there's not only little explanation of who people are, there's no attempt to build up the emotional capital which series readers will bring in automatically. Followed by Dead Men's Bones.

(200th book review. Gosh.)

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