Natural Causes by James Oswald

James Oswald originally self published Natural Causes as an ebook but after it became a huge success Penguin decided to publish it. Peggy Ann @ Peggy Ann’s Post has been championing his books for quite some time now, in fact I think it’s fair to say that she’s his biggest fan. But apart from that she’s also a very good judge of authors. James Oswald lives near St Andrews, just about 20 miles from where I live, so it’s quite bizarre that I first heard of him through Peggy, who must be about 5,000 miles away from here.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book which is set in Edinburgh. Detective Inspector Tony McLean is such a likeable character, I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in the series which have been written so far, and hoping that there will be far more books in the future.

McLean is an unusual member of the police force, he’s from a well-off background, brought up in a leafy part of the city, in an area of large stone built detached houses and walled gardens. Since the death of his parents when he was only four years old, McLean has been living with his grandmother and it’s near that neighbourhood that the first murder takes place. More murders follow, all very similar and the victims are well known in Edinburgh society.

McLean has been given a cold case to investigate though, after the discovery of the body of a young woman in a sealed underground chamber in an old house. It’s thought she had been murdered about 60 years previously and during his investigations McLean begins to think that her murder is linked to the spate of present day murders.

I can be a bit of a nit picker so on that note I did notice that early on in the book all women were described mainly by their hair – and there were an awful lot of redheads and ‘mops’ about. The only other thing that struck me was the name Anthony McLean – as my brother would say – ‘it disnae go’ or ‘it disnae rhyme’. In other words, they’re an unlikely combination of names, and I say that as a person with McLean as a middle name.

Apart from that Tony is almost always a ‘bad’ name, usually a bit dodgy and McLean is anything but dodgy. Just ask any teacher about names if you don’t believe me. They always scan lists of new classes and there are certain names which will always ring alarm bells because nine times out of ten they mean trouble!

For that reason I really hope that James Oswald is Jim or Jimmy or even Jamie to his friends! I’m sure he must be as he seemed like such a nice chap when I met him at a book signing in Kirkcaldy. By popular demand I’m adding this photo of James/Jim and moi as he signs Peggy’s copy of the book in Waterstones and simultaneously proves that he has no bald spot, taken by Jack, who does have a bald spot. Just don’t describe my hair as a red mop, pair of curtains – maybe!

James Oswald and Katrina

I decided to read the first book in Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, just to compare the two writers, as James Oswald is being lauded as the new Rankin. I think that Oswald is better than Rankin was at the beginning of his writing career. I’m sure all authors look back on their early work and have a bit of a shudder to themselves though.

James Oswald

22 thoughts on “Natural Causes by James Oswald

  1. I downloaded one of Oswald’s mysteries, based on Peggy’s recommendation, but haven’t read it yet.

    By the way, you look smashing, Katrina! You’re definitely beating me in the hair growing competition! Gorgeous!

    • Joan,
      I think that the ebook might still have a very gruesome beginning, which was written to grab the attention of publishers I think. The actual book begins differently as some people couldn’t get past the nastiness, but persevere! Gravity seems to have taken over with the hair, but it’s easier to cope with and I avoid hairdressers – always a plus!

  2. I’m so glad you liked it, Katrina! Two others that got it from my recommendation couldn’t get past the gore in the first chapter and gave up. James said in an interview the name Anthony, he got from a friend of his and the McLean is his girlfriends last name. Book of Soul’s is out now and Hangman’s Song early next year. Right now at W H Smith bookshops you can get Book Souls for 2.99 if you buy the Times! James just tweeted it!

  3. Thanks for the great review, Katrina. Interesting point you raise about names. Tony McLean started out as John, until I realised the Bruce Willis character in the Die Hard movies was John McClane. I changed him to Anthony in an earlier story, where his boss insisted on pronouncing the th in Anthony softly, as in ‘the’, much to his irritation.

    As for Jim, Jamie or Jimmy, I’m afraid I’ve always been a James.

    It’s nice to see the bald spot cream is working, too…

    • James Oswald,
      I’ve never seen a Die Hard movie, but I can see why you had to change the name. Years ago I worked with a woman who insisted on pronouncing ‘th’ like that in her husband’s name – and between you and me he was definitely a Tony.

      Well I can only think that it must be the difference between a Scottish James and one brought up in England, because you don’t seem like a cad!

  4. Always the way, you about an author local to you from someone not! Sometimes we are unaware of what is under our noses.

    Sounds an intriguing read, I will have to look out for.

    You have very nice long hair!

    • Jo,
      Thanks, my long hair is sheer laziness and fear of hairdressers and their prices too!

      I hope you enjoy the book when you get around to it.

  5. You have such lovely hair! I don’t think anyone could call it a mop 😉
    I’m going to try to track down a copy of this because I do have a love for Scottish detective fiction and am always willing to try new authors.

    • Anbolyn,
      Thanks, I just drag a comb through my hair in the morning then forget about it! Natural Causes is available as an ebook but has just been taken up by an American publisher I believe.

  6. Such an interesting post, Katrina – especially about the beginning of the book. I read the gory opening and decided not to read the book because of that. So, I was pleased to see he’d changed it and thought I would read it, but then you say the gore is at the end – gulps!! not sure again whether to read it …

    • Margaret, if you’re not too keen on gore then the book might not be for you. The short opening chapter – just one scene that describes in fine detail the crime that sets up the whole book – has been removed now, even from the Penguin published e-book versions (although some earlier e-book versions with it still in are out there). There are a few other fairly gruesome scenes in the book, though. These are descriptions of the crimes after the fact, rather than as they happen.

      The original opening chapter is now reproduced at the end of the book, with a short piece beforehand explaining why it was taken out. It is up to the reader whether they want to see what all the fuss was about.

      I think the book works equally well with or without that opening scene. I originally put it there when submitting the story for the CWA Debut Dagger competition. You only send in the first 3000 words and a synopsis of your novel, so I wanted something that would grab the attention of the judges. It must have worked, as the book was shortlisted (although it didn’t win!) The scene is very different from the rest of the book, so when my new editor at Penguin suggested we remove it, I didn’t have any real objections.

      I hope that clarifies things. I’ve noticed as my writing progresses that I become less and less graphic. The latest book has only one or two unpleasant moments. I find that the reader’s imagination is far better at painting a picture for them than anything I can write.

      • James, thank you for your reply and your reassurance that the rest of the book is different, but with a few fairly gruesome scenes – I might be able to stomach ‘fairly gruesome’! I managed with one of Christopher Brookmyre’s books, which began with a particularly nasty scene, so I should manage yours!

        • Margaret,
          I’ve felt quite squeamish reading some of Brookmyre’s books, he goes into such detail at times. I think you’ll enjoy Natural Causes.

      • James,
        I absolutely agree with you about the reader’s imagination. I feel the same about sex scenes – that bedroom door is best kept shut as far as I’m concerned.

    • Margaret,
      As James says – you don’t have to read the goriest bit at the end. I really prefer vintage crime because it tends to be less gory but I was fine with this book.

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