Michael Joseph | 2017 (23 February) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book
For a few moments the man in the sky thinks he might be flying. Until he smashes into a tree. And with death comes the realisation that this had been a terrible final fall. It’s no easy matter to get the body disentangled from the tree but once it is, it falls to Inspector Tony McLean to discover his identity and find out who is responsible. Matters are complicated by the young boy who found the body – or, rather heard its impact – when out walking his dog. The child is the son of a notorious criminal, murdered a few weeks before the boy’s birth ten years before. Nobody really wants to talk about that. Perhaps it’s time they did. McLean doesn’t believe in coincidences, especially not the weird ones.
Written in Bones is the seventh novel in James Oswald’s fine Inspector McLean series – one of my favourites – and it goes from strength to strength. McLean doesn’t have the best of relationships with his superiors and this is partly because McLean is particularly adept at uncovering the strange and the unusual. He discounts nothing and is prepared to prove the impossible possible. Sometimes in these novels there’s a hint of something inexplicable, almost other worldly, but it’s always subtly treated, just adding to the undercurrent of criminal evil that flows beneath these streets and houses. McLean, better than anyone, can tap into it. The resulting stories are clever, gripping and extremely atmospheric, set so well in Edinburgh and brilliantly written by James Oswald.
As with most fictional detectives, McLean has a history and homelife that influences his career but it never intrudes. I love his unusual home and his complicated relationship with the cat. And then there’s the car. How McLean loves his car. McLean is a fascinating individual even before he begins a crime case and he’s backed up by some other intriguing characters, such as Grumpy Bob and Call-me-Stevie. The senior police officers are an extraordinary bunch. Even the police station is a little bit odd with one newer building built on top of the basement of another. People like to think it’s haunted even though McLean insists it isn’t. In Written in Bones, there’s another factor affecting its mood – a bleak, frozen Scottish winter. You can feel the chill in your bones. This book might have fewer hints of the supernatural than some of the others but it more than makes up for this with mood.
The story is such a good one and makes use of previously encountered individuals, although no other knowledge of the series is needed to enjoy Written in Bones. As usual, McLean goes his own way in his investigations but he has the full support of his junior officers. Tony McLean is such a likeable man. His bosses might not get on with him but everyone else does. Here, McLean has to break in a new detective constable and I really enjoyed the pages that the two share.
These books are always hard to put down and Written in Bones is no different. James Oswald is such a fine, elegant writer, as brilliant at creating mood as he is characters and plot. Not surprisingly, Written in Bones went straight to the top of my reading pile as soon as it arrived and it rewarded me with such a brilliant, gripping read. If you’ve yet to read these books, you have such a treat in store.