DEAD MEN’S BONES (4 daggers out of 5) PRAYER FOR THE DEAD (5 daggers out of 5)
There’s never just one case at a time that Tony McLean is handed. Nor is it ever a couple of “normal” cases, easily solved, that land in his lap. First he finds himself ankle-deep in snow, peering into the gully of the River North Esk as the SOC officers retrieve the body of a man from the swirling, detritus-filled waters. Easy enough, he thinks, until he bends down to examine the man and discovers that not only is he naked, but his entire body is covered in tattoos with only a few traces of white skin visible. So begins Dead Men’s Bones, Oswald’s fourth book in his Tony McLean series. But before McLean can get back to the station, he’s alerted to a shooting at a farmhouse in north-east Fife. A prominent politician, Andrew Weatherly has shot and killed his wife, two daughters, and then has turned the gun on himself.
When journalist Jo Dalgliesh approaches McLean to ask for his help in finding Ben Stevenson, a fellow journalist who has gone missing, McLean is shocked beyond belief when Ben’s body is found deep in Gilmerton Cove in a sealed chamber, with nary a hair left behind for forensics. Prayer for the Dead takes McLean on a dark and dangerous path, one that he never imagined even existed.
Both of these novels are darker and more disturbing in their content as Oswald brings in more facets of the occult and deviant behaviour. But Tony is never completely on his own tackling the forces of evil. He’s supported by a cast of wonderful characters from Grumpy Bob (DS Laird), Angus Cadwallader, the pathologist, and DS Ritchie, to Madame Rose and Detective Superintendent Duguid (a perfect foil to McLean). These novels are not for the faint of heart!
NATURAL CAUSES THE BOOK OF SOULS HANGMAN’S SONG
Reading Oswald’s Inspector Tony McLean series is like eating peanuts – you can’t stop at just one. I read the first three back-to-back, like a chain smoker lighting the cigarette in her hand with the one between her lips. He’s a likeable guy is Tony McLean. He’s intuitive, doesn’t cut corners, and goes the extra mile, much to the chagrin of his boss, DS Duguid (a.k.a. “Dagwood” by his officers). But McLean is no “yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir” kind of guy. He gives as good as he gets and meets Duguid’s scorn with pragmatism and common sense – certain to irritate the DS even more.
We are aware that McLean has suffered a loss as he makes oblique references to his girlfriend, Kirsty, while investigating the apparent ritual killing of a young woman in Natural Causes. However it’s only while he’s investigating this death that we truly understand the magnitude of his loss. This young woman appears to have been murdered many years before and as Edinburgh is bathed in blood with a new series of killings of young women, McLean believes that they are all connected. When McLean meets Madame Rose (I like to think of her/him as a rather large Medium), she poses the possibility that a supernatural force could be at work in these killings. This hint of the occult, spiritualism and the supernatural plays a role in all of Oswald’s novels.
In The Book of Souls, we finally find out what happened to McLean’s girlfriend, Kirsty, (no spoilers here). The body of a young woman, brutally murdered is found in Edinburgh, echoing ten similar murders of young women twelve years previously. The murderer, known as the Christmas killer (for the time of year that he committed these heinous acts), was convicted and sent to prison. But the Christmas killer has been murdered by a fellow prisoner.
So did they get the wrong man or is someone out there replicating the murders?
When McLean attends the suicide of a young man by hanging, the whole scene seems “off” to him. When two other men are found hanged, supposedly having committed suicide, McLean begins to investigate the three deaths as anything but suicide. As in The Book of Souls, Madame Rose plays a significant role in Oswald’s The Hangman’s Song. And like the other two novels, McLean isn’t just saddled with one case at a time. He’s also investigating a prostitution and human trafficking ring, leaving the poor guy little time for sleep or even a cup of tea. And all around this case is the whiff of something sinister and unexplained, leaving everyone involved, vulnerable and in danger.
Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty, Community Policing detectives, are sent to the scene of a mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec. Acting as liaisons with the community, they are there to help temper the fear of the residents while dealing with a vicious campaign of racism which has been launched on social media and exploited by a right-wing radio host. So many fingers are pointing in so many different directions. Who are the perpetrators of this horrific crime? And who is shadowing Khattack, watching and knowing his every move? Does it have anything to do with the shooting, or is it something personal?
Khan has brought to the page a story that we have seen played out in far too many communities around the world (most recently in Christchurch, New Zealand). Her depiction of the events in this novel are every bit as gripping, heart-wrenching, and horrifying as those we’ve seen on TV on the evening news.
Such violence can only create greater rifts between the different factions in this community, and while Esa and Rachel work to prevent further escalation of these rifts, their relationship as partners is put to the test.
This is by far, Khan’s best book yet in this series.
It is 1936 in the Crown Colony of Singapore and sixteen year old Su Lin would appear to be disadvantaged by some. Childhood polio has left her with a limp and coupled with the loss of her parents to typhoid when she was young, she’s considered “bad luck”. But Su Lin is smart, resilient, and determined to make a life for herself that does not include “domestic captivity” and an arranged marriage.
When the Irish nanny to the daughter of the Acting Governor dies mysteriously, Su Lin is offered the position. Her natural curiosity and perspicacity lead her to probe into the circumstances of the death of Charity Byrne where she forms an alliance with Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy who is in charge of the case.
The tone of this novel is so reminiscent of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series, where Su Lin could easily be an older version of Flavia. Both are refreshingly delightful sleuths. If you enjoyed the tales of Flavia, you’re sure to enjoy Su Lin’s adventures, too. Her next one is The Betel Nut Tree Mystery.
Are you looking for a brief respite from the cold and snow? Then Delany’s latest Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery can give you just that. It’s a cozy – but not the kind where you snuggle up under a blanket, drinking cups of hot cocoa. It’s more an ice cream cones, sandy beaches, long evening walks in the warm summer breeze type of cozy. After all, it does take place in Cape Cod, and before your ice cream cone starts to melt, a murder takes place.
When the West London Museum suffers extensive damage from a fire (Gemma Doyle, owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop just happened to be walking her dog Violet when she noticed smoke and quickly alerted the fire department), the shop owners along Baker Street decide to hold an auction to raise funds for its re-build. When the museum chair, Kathy Lamb, is found dead in the back room of Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room just as the auction is about to begin, Gemma is forced to help find the killer when the prime suspect begs her to do so.
There is no shortage of suspects and Gemma must untangle multiple webs created by both the innocent and the guilty in order to bring the culprit to justice.
Delany provides a nice little mystery that will help push away the winter blues – at least for awhile.