McLean comes early in the year, Rebus typically late. Peter James' Roy Grace is a harbinger of summer while Donna Leon's languorous Brunetti novels tend to be easter arrivals that I like to save for the summer.
I raise this seasonality for two reasons. Firstly I enjoy the reassurance of the rhythm of the books' arrivals. Second I got to wondering whether or not where I read the books influenced my experience of them. Is an irascible Edinburgh detective made more irascible by being read in the depths of winter? Does Brunetti seem more laid back because he is easier to find so while lounging on a Spanish beach?
I don't have a complete answer to that (but I will investigate on the beach over the summer) but it occurred to me orignally because I do think of Oswald's novels as 'winter books'. This may be because on the only two occasions that I have visited Inspector McLean's Edinburgh patch it has been cold. Or perhaps because I imagine Oswald, a polymath who farms as well as writes, penning McLean on some frozen Highland hill side.
Whatever the season, Oswald does not disappoint. The Damage Done is the sixth in an excellent series, and maintains its record for good story-telling, strong character arcs and a little hint of devil in some of its supernatural undertones.
It opens with McLean presiding over a PR disaster in the shape of a failed raid on a house police believed to be a brothel. What they find instead is a private sex party attended by Edinburgh's crust. The brass - as the brass always does - wants the whole thing swept under the carpet to save face, but McLean - as McLean always does - ignores their pleas and insists on following up. In the meantime McLean also finds himself looking into a mysterious case of a man who dies in unusual circumstances, apparently during some sort of sexual activity.
When McLean is shunted from the Sexual Crimes Unit to the backwater of cold cases (where he finds former boss and arch enemy Dagwood) he is presented with an opportunity to delve into the brothel affair, and quickly finds himself confronting a case from his earliest days in the force as well as a story that somebody is clearly keen to hide.
The Damage Done has everything a good procedural needs. A strong and winding plot that keeps you guessing, a healthy dose of friction between McLean and his superiors and a strong sense of place in its Edinburgh location. McLean at 6 (books) is a mere whippersnapper compared to the elderly Rebus and his 25 but Oswald has created one of crime fiction's most credible and sympathetic characters and he carries the books well. The future of the Edinburgh crime novel is in the best possible hands. I look forward to number 7.
James Oswald review archive
Natural Causes (2013)
Dead Men's Bones (2014)
The Hangman's Song (2014)