Natural Causes – James Oswald (Inspector McLean 1)

About the book:   Short-Listed for the prestigious Crime Writers Association (CWA) Debut Dagger prize, ‘Natural Causes’ is the first of an ongoing series featuring Edinburgh-based Detective Inspector Anthony McLean. In a world where demons are not supposed to exist, he is one of the few unlucky enough to be able to sense their presence.

When Edinburgh police find the killer of a prominent city elder less than twenty-four hours after the crime, they are justifiably pleased. So the murderer has killed himself; that just saves the time and cost of a trial. But a second murder days later bears haunting similarities to the first, even though once more the murderer swiftly confesses and kills himself.

Detective Inspector Anthony McLean is investigating the discovery of a dead girl, walled up in the basement of an old Edinburgh mansion. She has been brutally murdered, her internal organs removed and placed around her in six preserving jars. The evidence suggests this all happened over sixty years ago, an attempt to re-enact an ancient ceremony that by trapping a demon in the dead girl’s body would supposedly confer immortality on the six men who took one of her organs each.

McLean’s grandmother – the woman who raised him after his parents were killed when he was a young boy – dies after months in a coma following a stroke. On top of this he has to investigate a series of unusual, violent suicides and a cat-burglar who targets the homes of the recently dead. But as another prominent Edinburgh businessman is killed, he begins to suspect that there may be a connection between the murders, the suicides and the ritual killing of the girl found in the basement. The same names keep cropping up. He just can’t find a rational explanation as to how that connection works.

As he digs deeper, and as the coincidences stack up, McLean is forced to consider an irrational explanation. Could there really be something evil stalking the city he has sworn to protect? And if so, how on earth can he hope to stop it?

About the author: James Oswald is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling Inspector McLean series of detective mysteries. The first two of these, Natural Causes and The Book of Souls were both short-listed for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award. Set in an Edinburgh not so different to the one we all know, Detective Inspector Tony McLean is the unlucky policeman who can see beneath the surface of ordinary criminal life to the dark, menacing evil that lurks beneath.

As J D Oswald, James has also written a classic fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro. Inspired by the language and folklore of Wales, it follows the adventures of a young dragon, Sir Benfro, in a land where his kind have been hunted near to extinction by men. The whole series is now available in print, ebook and audio formats.

James has pursued a varied career – from Wine Merchant to International Carriage Driving Course Builder via Call Centre Operative and professional Sheep Shit Sampler (true). He moved out of the caravan when Storm Gertrude blew the Dutch barn down on top of it, and now lives in a proper house with three dogs, two cats and a long-suffering partner. He farms Highland cows and Romney sheep by day, writes disturbing fiction by night.

My Review: I decided to read Natural Causes after meeting James Oswald at Harrogate a few years ago and having been told by several book bloggers how good this series is and more importantly that I should read more Scottish Crime.  As I am taking part in THE Book Club on Facebook’s 2018 reading challenge and one of the 12 books to read is “start a new series and read book 1”  Natural Causes was my obvious choice.

Newly promoted Detective Inspector Anthony McLean is investigating the discovery of a dead girl whose remains have been found in the basement of large house being renovated.  The fact that it appears she was murdered over 50 years ago, her internal organs have been removed and placed strategically in jars around her and there is a dark, foreboding presence throughout the book makes Natural Causes standout from the usual crime/police procedural series I usually read.

I really enjoyed getting to know Tony McLean and reading about his personal life, his relationships with his co-workers and peers, his friendship with Grumpy Bob and his personal issues with DCI Duguid (Dagwood).  I also particularly enjoy a gruesome murder and Natural Causes has so many sick, twisted and gory murders I’m sure the population in Edinburgh reduced significantly during this book.

With a touch of the occult and supernatural, plenty of grisly and violent murders, a cast of interesting characters Natural Causes is a great start to series, which I now have downloaded and would definitely recommend for those looking for something a little bit different.


1. Natural Causes (2012)
2. The Book of Souls (2012)
3. The Hangman’s Song (2014)
4. Dead Men’s Bones (2014)
5. Prayer for the Dead (2015)
6. The Damage Done (2016)
7. Written in Bones (2017)
8. The Gathering Dark (2018)


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