Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 February 2021 from Wildfire
My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review
The charred remains of an elderly woman are discovered in a burned-out game-keepers cottage, hidden away in woodland to the west of Edinburgh. Clearly no accidental fire, Detective Inspector Tony McLean suspects that neither is this simply a grim arson attack. There is far more to the victim than her humble surroundings might suggest, and something ritualistic to her horrific murder.
Nor will it be the only case of death by fire that Tony and his team will be faced with. This is only the beginning, and with such evil clouding the air, Tony begins to wonder what else will burn . . .
Whoop! Tony McLean is back with a bang. They’re all here in this 11th outing of our favourite unruly detective. After the events of the last book, Tony’s on suspension awaiting news of his fate and thus it is Acting D.S. Janie Harrison who is sent to a game-keepers cottage tucked away in the in the wooded grounds of Bairnfather Hall.
90 year old Cecily Slater has been burned to death but whether by accident or design is hard to tell. There’s little in the way of forensics and with staff shortages it’s not looking like a priority, though when it is discovered that Cecily Slater was the aunt of Lord Bairnfather, they realise that he will want to be kept abreast of the investigation.
Tony’s return to work coincides with the appointment of a new Chief Super. Gail Elmwood is smart, says all the right things and is clearly looking to get on Tony’s good side. She’s even made sure he only steps down one rank when his punishment is meted out. Now he’s back to plain D.I. and he’s more than happy that he can lose all that paperwork and get back to doing a job he loves.
When the post mortem reveals that Cecily Slater was badly hurt prior to her death, he realises that they’ve been slow to react and finding her killer is not going to be easy.
D.S. Janie Harrison, meanwhile, is attending to a bit of a rammy outside a major Edinburgh Hotel where the well-known and rather obnoxious lawyer Tommy Fielding is holding a conference on men’s rights. Women are protesting against the vile tactics used by this man in defending his clients against charges of rape and sexual assault.
That’s what’s going on on the surface. Underneath, however, there are much bigger ripples.
In a story where James Oswald employs his created universe to bring in one character we have met in his Con Fairchild series, we are also deliciously treated to Madame Rose and to a brief appearance by Jane Louise Safire, so you know that something is very definitely afoot. We also meet another intriguing character who feels more than fleeting and I have the sense that ripples from this story will continue to resonate across future books.
Cleverly interlacing past and present, Oswald draws clear parallels between what happened centuries ago and events of the present day. Atmospheric, intriguing and beautifully executed, this is Oswald on excellent form. There’s humour – not least in the visual image of Tony tootling round Edinburgh in Emma’s electric car and quite a lot of wry observation. We celebrate the reappearance of Grumpy Bob and the promotion of two women within the team. I loved seeing the character of Janie Harrison come into her own with excellent results.
As two investigations proceed in parallel and more deaths occur, it becomes clear that they are all related. But what the connection is and how their macabre deaths occurred is something that will require more than an obvious police approach. Oswald has written some excellent strong voices into this book, many of them women and while they’re not all likeable, that strength underpins the ripples of ‘otherness’ that permeate this book, drawing you into to a perfectly understandable and acceptable alternative version of what’s going on. The forces of good v evil are at work here, even though it’s not always obvious quite who is good and who is evil.
As Madame Rose tells Tony; “It annoys you when I speak of dark forces and the balance of things. It is out of kilter all the same, though, whether you believe it or not. I fear it will be up to us to put it right. Again.”
Verdict: I hung on every word of this delicious, pacy tale. I love the sense of supernatural forces that underpin this series and I’m delighted by the characters and even more pleased to see that Janie Harrison has learnt some maverick ways from McLean which are bound to stand her in good stead for what’s to come. A splendid addition to an unmissable series.
James Oswald is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling Inspector McLean series of detective mysteries, as well as the new DC Constance Fairchild series. James’s first two books, NATURAL CAUSES and THE BOOK OF SOULS, were both short-listed for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award. BURY THEM DEEP is the 10th book in the Inspector McLean Series.
James farms Highland cows by day and writes disturbing fiction by night.