Michael Joseph | 2018 (25 January) | 444p | Review copy | Buy the book
Detective Inspector Tony McLean is there to watch it all…. in Edinburgh, a lorry loses its control in a busy street. It crashes into a bus shelter and its load of toxic waste spills out and melts everything and everyone it touches. It’s a horrific scene and it’s one that will haunt McLean’s dreams for nights to come. McLean is put in charge of the case, tracking down the criminals behind the lorry’s illegal load, while every last effort is made to identify the remains of the poor souls killed in the crash. To complicate matters, the new Chief Superintendent’s grown son is missing and he was last seen in the area of the accident.
This is a significant period of Tony’s life. His partner is pregnant and he’s more settled than he has been in a long time. He’s even got a new car to enjoy. But the lorry crash is surrounded by ill omens, not least of which is the large crowd of cats that has assembled outside his house. And there they sit and watch.
The Gathering Dark is the eighth novel to feature Inspector McLean and during that time it has become one of the best crime fiction series about today, not to mention one of my very favourites. There are lots of reasons for this – not least because they are brilliantly written – but one major reason is that James Oswald approaches crime fiction from an unusual perspective. There is an element of something ‘other’ about this world that McLean inhabits. It is dark, creepily so at times, and there are curious people who stroll through it (how I love Madame Rose). And just occasionally there is something inexplicable about the mysteries that McLean has to investigate. All of this is especially true in The Gathering Dark.
Having said all that, most of the novel is firmly grounded in the reality and nitty gritty of a forensic police investigation. I love the personalities that McLean must work with, many with their nicknames and most with idiosyncratic behaviour, from Grumpy Bob to Call-Me-Steve. McLean must also get used to working with new detective constables and James Oswald makes them all stand out.
Tony McLean is such a fascinating character. He’s also very unusual for a fictional detective in that he’s a wealthy man, who lives in a huge house (with an odd cat) and is universally liked. He’s a caring, generous man, and he hates that his job keeps him from his pregnant partner. But he can’t help himself. He is a driven man. Especially now when the nightmares haunt him.
The Gathering Dark is, I think, the darkest of all the series as the ominous title suggests. The blackening mood intensifies as the novel goes along, and not just because of the heinous crime that shocks in the opening pages. I must admit to finding this a little hard to cope with, particularly in the later stages and I did feel a kind of protective fury on behalf of Tony McLean. But this is fine writing, beautifully characterised and with a great plot that resonates more so than normal due to recent horrendous vehicle crimes.
I am invested in the character of Tony McLean. I can’t get enough of him or his world and so these books will always go straight to the top of my reading pile, just as this one did. This one might be bleak but it’s certainly rewarding. You don’t need to have read the others first. You can pick up any of this series and enjoy them but I certainly recommend you read them all even if, like me, that’s in the wrong order. Tony McLean is one of our greatest fictional detectives. He is to be treasured.