RogerBW's Blog

Prayer for the Dead, James Oswald 14 December 2015

2015 supernatural mystery, fifth in Oswald's Inspector McLean series. In a network of man-made caves under Edinburgh, a journalist turns up with his throat cut. Why there, why then, and why him?

This is another fine series entry, continuing the slow process of change that's been going on since the beginning. There's less of the blatantly supernatural than last time round, but rather more of McLean's acceptance that even if he doesn't want to believe in this magic stuff he's dealing with criminals who very much do.

Some of the best and subtlest touches are in the characterisation of McLean himself, who's still a workaholic even if he's become a rather better-adjusted one since the early books; he's still quick to criticise and slow to praise, and he still lets his paperwork get out of control, but he's changed in small and subtle ways, not least in the portrayal of other people from his viewpoint: where the tabloid reporter Jo Dalgleish has always been shown as a bane of McLean's life, this time he is forced to work with her, and she doesn't seem so terribly bad after all. McLean's immediate superior Duguid has mellowed remarkably, or maybe it's just that McLean is less prone to see only the worst side of him. For this reason I'd advise against starting the series here; it's definitely better read from the beginning.

This doesn't play entirely straight with the rules of mysteries, and if you're expecting a conventional puzzle-solving story you'll be disappointed; this isn't about working out whodunnit so much as about following the police investigation while already knowing many, though not all, of the answers. More than ever before in the series, this is about the people more than the crimes.

Now it looked unpleasantly like the kind of thing you might find in one of the more esoteric butchers' shops. The kind where you could buy all the parts of the animal never intended for eating unless they'd been finely minced, mixed with oatmeal and spices, shoved in a sheep's stomach and boiled first.

To be followed in 2016 by Damage Done.

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