Wildfire | 2019 (7 February) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book
Tony McLean has recently been promoted to Chief Inspector – and he’s not enjoying it at all. Suddenly, his world has shrunk to a small office and a desk laden with paperwork and reports. He wants to be out there policing. And so, when he gets the chance, he pops out to help with monitoring a rowdy demonstration on the streets of Edinburgh. A door slightly ajar off a quiet street grabs Tony’s attention. In it he finds the mummified remains of a corpse. This looks like a cold case. The body must have been lying there hidden for years. But a post mortem reveals that the body is that of a young girl and, far from having been dead for years, it’s only been a matter of days. And she will not be the last to die in this strange, cruel, cold way. As first on the scene, Tony is determined to play his part in solving one of the most puzzling cases of a career full of puzzling cases.
Cold as the Grave is the ninth novel in James Oswald’s Inspector McLean series – easily one of my favourite series of any kind, whatever the genre. As these books always do, Cold as the Grave went straight to the top of my reading pile and came with me on holiday to Spain. It was the perfect choice. As is usual with the series, there is within these pages a tantalising hint of something dark and sinister, something possibly not entirely human, at work in Edinburgh, and it is engrossing.
Cold as the Grave tells a fantastic story, deliciously complex in plot, and at its heart is a group of people on the fringes of Edinburgh society, its refugees, particularly vulnerable children. Tony McLean is a man who will do everything he can for them. But the forces against him are sinister and dark.
I love the way in which these books contain a hint of the supernatural. This isn’t something I normally go for in fiction but James Oswald makes it work. Weaving through the story is a strand that features fortune tellers, cats, monsters, genies and, perhaps, the personification of evil itself, a figure that McLean has come up against before. There is a dangerous force loose in society. How real that force is, as opposed to being unreal or inhuman, is a question with no answer. It’s wonderfully done and I love how it makes the book so chilly and creepy, with a touch of horror, while also presenting such a realistic and gripping police procedural. The two are married together seamlessly. And then there’s that Edinburgh setting – it’s excellent.
It’s the character of Tony McLean who pulls it all together and unites the two worlds, the light and the dark. There’s a sensitivity to him. He’s warm and caring. His relationship with Emma continues to confuse his personal life and this is dealt with so gently. It’s impossible not to care deeply for this wonderful man.
Cold as the Grave is my favourite of the series, which is no mean feat. I can’t wait til Tony McLean returns.