RogerBW's Blog

What Will Burn, James Oswald 16 May 2022

2021 supernatural mystery in modern Edinburgh, eleventh in Oswald's Inspector McLean series. An old woman's found burned to death in her isolated home; not an accident, not with the beating first, but with a week before the body was even discovered this is going to be a tough one. Then men start dying mysteriously, and the only connection seems to be that they've recently got divorced…

The magical theme this time is witchcraft, both in the sense of the victimisation of women and in the more explicitly magical one; the two don't always fit together well, because if the historical "witches" had had significant magical power, their persecutors might actually have had the beginnings of a point, and that idea is never mentioned.

On the mundane side, McLean's still on suspension after the last book, until the new chief super puts him back on the job. But she turns out to be rather more manipulative than will be good for his team. Out in the world, a lawyer famous for getting men out of rape and abuse charges is expanding his activities into a men's rights group, and while the police have to deal with the women protesting against their meetings it's clear where their sympathies lie – mostly. But will they be legally able to do anything about him? Meanwhile the police team around McLean continues to grow and develop; eleven books in, these people are familiar, and one cares about how they're doing. Some get promoted, others retire, and a new batch comes in.

I think at the core this series works for me because I like McLean: he's broken in some ways, but he's gradually come to realise how he's broken and to try to do something about it, and meanwhile he's determined to see justice done as best he can.

If I have a complaint it's with the pacing: I don't mind long stretches of nothing much developing in the case, but after a particular incident there's a sudden flood of understanding, and then things move much faster into the climax of the book. One or the other speed, or a more gradual change, might have worked better than this sharp transition.

I continue to enjoy this series.

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Previous in series: Bury Them Deep | Series: Inspector McLean

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