James Oswald

Natural Causes

"There is great excitement about this book and I can see why."


DI Tony McLean is a copper through and through. Even when off duty he can’t help finding out if he can be of any assistance at the scene of a brutal murder. A well-known local figure has been found in his study, sat in a chair, naked and with his throat cut. The killer also placed a slice of the victim’s own body part in his mouth. This new killing leads to other murders that bear a remarkable similarity and as they are all well-known figures in the community, the big names from on high want a fast result.

In amongst all this killing DI McLean is given a very cold case indeed. The mummified remains of a young girl are found in a sealed room in the cellar of a house which once belonged to a famous family. As the victim was murdered about 1945 the force are not so worried about finding the killer who is more than likely to be dead themselves. However, as facts start to trickle in McLean finds that one case may very well be the catalyst for the other. At the same time McLean’s grandmother dies and with it a wealth of questions die with her but the scant information McLean finds out about his own family’s past leads to awkward and unsettling questions about his own identity.

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‘Natural Causes’ was originally released solely as an e-book and has taken some years to finally be published within these paperback covers. It is strange that this gripping tale has taken so long to be discovered. Oswald has a natural talent for dialogue and for moving his story along at a steady pace. Thankfully this isn’t a lovechild of the ‘breakneck’ speed novel that has arisen in recent years, but a measured investigation which implores you to continue turning those pages and finding out not only about the cases in hand, but about his main protagonist, James McLean himself. I was pleased that Oswald has given many teasers regarding McLean and hope that many, if not all will be revealed in future books. Oswald’s strength is in timing his surprises with precision and like a cat with the proverbial mouse, entices you on and on so you cannot stop until you are virtually at the finishing line. Despite the savagery of the murders, humour is scattered amongst the pages in the form of McLean’s team who comprise of Grumpy Bob and Stuart MacBride (we all have our heroes but whatever next… Chief Constable Ruth Rendell??). Grumpy Bob is a find and is portrayed as a dedicated if very lazy policeman. I look forward to hearing more about Grumpy Bob in other books. There is a slight word of warning – there is a spark of the supernatural within but I promise you won’t find vampires appearing or plots of the Dan Brown ilk. No, the supernatural part is left up to the reader to decide if the perpetrator is purely human or if there ever could be something classed as malevolence personified. Oswald juggles several cases and there were moments when I felt an echo of Reginald Hill in some of the phrases and characterisation and I believe that with a little refinement Oswald could well emulate this great, much-missed writer. ‘Natural Causes’ is a sterling tale and after a long journey from rejection to e-book now finally to print, this book can only find a new and bigger audience. There is great excitement about this book and I can see why. This is a very strong debut and I look forward to reading the rest of the McLean instalments.

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