Wildfire | 2021 (18 February) | 457p | Bought copy | Buy the book
Cecily Slater is a 90-year-old woman who lives a reclusive, quiet life in an old house that is hard to reach. But she knew that they would find her in the end and that she would die in flames. Nearby a man dies in his armchair, his torso incinerated, looking every bit as if he had died of spontaneous combustion. Tony McLean, now happily demoted to Detective Inspector, and Janie Harrison, just as happily promoted to Detective Sergeant, must investigate both cases. While one might not be murder at all, the other is inexplicable. Why would anyone do this to an old woman? There will be more deaths, all so difficult to explain. This won’t be an easy case and matters aren’t helped by the arrival of the new Chief Superintendent, the charismatic and demanding Gail Elmwood.
What Will Burn is the eleventh novel in James Oswald’s superb DI McLean series. While there is a benefit in having read the previous novels, What Will Burn does stand alone very well and I think it would even serve as a good way in to the books for those new to them. This is one of the best detective series you could read, and I love them all, but What Will Burn is my favourite and it exemplifies everything that I love about these books – their atmosphere, cleverness, intriguing crimes, fantastic characters and that little hint of the mysterious and other worldly. These books are firmly grounded in Edinburgh and Scotland but there is an element of horror and the supernatural that manages to not intrude while adding a flavour that is absolutely delicious!
The storyline of What Will Burn is terrific – it is really, really, really good. You can tell how good it is because I can’t think of the words to praise it enough! All sorts of themes and ideas are explored, but one of the big issues tackled in such a brilliant way is the age-old hatred that some men have for women, especially wise women. Then there are other biblical motivations – vengeance, envy, sin. I love how these novels tackle modern crimes but give them a context that is universal, ancient and timeless.
Familiar characters that we love are here, along with Tony, such as Janie, Madame Rose, Lofty (Emma is away in Africa), Grumpy Bob, various cars and cats. There is a link with the author’s Constance Fairchild books thanks to Isobel or Izzy, who is such a fine character. Overshadowing everyone is Gail Elmwood. The least said about her in a review the better but you really need to meet her.
Tony McLean is a wonderful and original creation, surrounded by a circle of friends and colleagues that are a pleasure to know. There are dangers within and without but they remain on guard, vigilant. Long may they continue to do so.