RogerBW's Blog

Written in Bones, James Oswald 27 October 2018

2017 supernatural mystery in modern Edinburgh, seventh in Oswald's Inspector McLean series. A body is found in a tree; clearly it fell there, but how did it happen, and why?

Once the villain comes on stage (a character seen before in this series) it's entirely obvious who is responsible; but the how and why remain the focus of the book. To a mystery fan, there's a great deal of procedural flailing about, and the resolution is profoundly unsatisfactory; to a fan of supernatural fiction, there's perhaps too light a touch to make this a whole-hearted member of that genre either. (There's certainly nothing as blatant as in Aaronovitch's Rivers of London or Cornell's London Falling; McLean has some extremely odd experiences, but there's nothing definitively magical happening here that couldn't be explained by other means.) Rather, this book occupies a border between the two genres and world-views, where being wholeheartedly in one camp or the other will lead a reader astray as surely as it would lead a character. It's a delicate position, and one that has been established gradually over the course of the series.

For that reason I think it would be a profound error to start reading here; I usually recommend that people start at the beginning of a series anyway, but it's especially the case for this book. Most of McLean's colleagues have stuck with him through multiple cases, and he's still enough of a workaholic (and this is portrayed as a genuine problem, even if he thinks of it as "dedication to the job") that one might reasonably wonder why… except that one knows their history with him and where this has led before.

There's investigation, and pressure from above, and corruption; but as before there's apparently someone on McLean's side too. There's progress in the overall story of McLean's life, both personal and professional. It's all good satisfying stuff.

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If you start with the first book, you'll already know whether you enjoy this series by the time you get here. This book isn't, in itself, sufficiently amazing that you should go out and buy all the previous ones simply in order to read it in context, but it's still jolly good.

Followed by Gathering Dark.

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Previous in series: The Damage Done | Series: Inspector McLean | Next in series: The Gathering Dark

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