Written by James Oswald — Edinburgh DI Tony McLean is back, and there seems to be a rather nasty killer on the loose. When an investigative journalist is found both naked and dead – his throat cut – that’s one thing. Quite another is that his body has been found in the mysterious man made cave system beneath the village of Gilmerton, just south of the city. Oh yes, and we mustn’t ignore the fact that marks on the reporter’s notebook, and the extensive blood splatters on the cave wall, seem to resemble Masonic symbols.
When other bodies are found, McLean’s bosses are desperate to prevent the local press using the dreaded ‘S’ word. Random killings are one thing, but there’s nothing like a good old serial killer on the loose to terrify the public – and sell papers. Meanwhile, McLean has problems of his own. He is missing his adorable but damaged girlfriend Emma, last heard of in a Japanese monastery. And he has reluctantly taken in a lodger, none other than a cross-dressing psychic called Madame Rose along with her bevy of equally mystical cats.
McLean is trying to fend off the advances of a pair of disreputable property sharks who want to buy him out of the flat he owns in a ruined tenement, but when they appear on the radar of the National Crime Agency, he himself becomes a person of interest to the men in suits. And still the killings continue, with crime scenes swept impossibly clean by the perpetrator, the causes of death becoming ever more gruesome, and the blood pressure of McLean’s desk-bound bosses reaching unprecedented levels.
Finally, more by luck than judgment, the killer is discovered. Uunlike the perpetrator in the previous Inspector McLean novel, it is not someone who has been hiding in plain sight. Instead it’s someone who appears to have a mysterious – not to say downright impossible – link to McLean’s own childhood. How to rate the ending without giving anything away? Difficult. Suffice to say, if you are a fan of enigmatic solutions where half the pleasure is gained from trying to work out exactly what has happened – like a Citizen Kane Rosebud moment – then you will love it. If you are someone who likes the plot nicely reconciled, wrapped up in brown paper and secured with string and sealing wax, then you may feel a little cheated.
Oswald displays a much lighter touch with his paranormal paintbrush than previously. Yes, we still have the slightly preposterous Madame Rose at the heart of the story, and we never really learn why her flat didn’t burn down when the buildings either side were destroyed. We are, however, largely in an land inhabited by flesh and blood rather than spectral beings. I enjoyed McLean’s hard-work, his decency, and his compassion for the people he works with – even the slightly stereotypical senior coppers to whom he must answer.
If this is your first McLean story, then the occasional oblique references to his private life may puzzle you for a moment, but will not spoil your enjoyment. If, like me, you had fallen for the lovely but now absent Emma, you will be dismayed by the fact that she seems to be so far away, but heartened by the closing words on her latest postcard from Japan: “Can’t get much further away, so I must start coming home soon.”
CFL Rating: 5 Stars