The Hangman’s Song by James Oswald

 The Hangman’s Song cover

The Hangman’s Song by James Oswald is the third book in his Inspector McLean series.

Edinburgh’s police headquarters is in chaos as the ongoing restructuring of Scotland’s police forces has meant that Chief Inspector Duguid – or Dagwood as he is sometimes known as is the temporary boss. McLean has a very low opinion of Duguid and the feeling is mutual. Duguid is piling lots of extra work onto McLean and at the same time is removing officers from his cases, sending them on needless training courses at Tulliallan police college.

However when a series of hangings take place in the city there are enough odd details to make McLean feel that they are anything but the straightforward suicides that Duguid insists they are.

McLean is having as much trouble with his work colleagues as he is with the investigation, jealousy is leading some of the more immature in the force to play stupid but expensive pranks on the financially independent McLean and at times he does wonder himself why he is bothering to remain in the police force. Luckily for us he realises that that would be giving in and doing just what his colleagues want.

I’m really enjoying this series which should be read in order but I agree with Jack that it could do without the spooky elements which really don’t add anything.

If you want to read what Jack thought about this book, have a look here.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

The River Tay

River Tay

One of the first things we did when Peggy got here was to take her to visit the author and farmer James Oswald at his very remote farm on the edge of Fife. The yellow patches which you can see in the photos are fields of oilseed rape, a very lucrative crop for the farmers but seen close up they can be painful on the eyes and on a hot day (if we get any) the smell is rather overpoweringly sweet.

River Tay

These photos are of the view which he gets from the new house which he is having built. It’s a lovely area but so remote that we thought we had somehow taken a wrong turning as he lives miles down a farm track, right on the edge of Fife. As it happens the view over the nearby River Tay is of Perthshire or Perth and Kinross as I think they are calling it nowadays. Our youngest son lives in that part of Perthshire, where the scenery is much more beautiful than anything in Fife, in my opinion.

River Tay and Fife farmland

If you want to see some of the animals in James Oswald’s farm you can look at this post I did earlier.

A Farm in Fife

sheep and lambs

You might know that Peggy of Peggy Ann’s Post is staying with me at the moment and one of the places she really wanted to visit is the farm in Fife where the Scottish crime author James Oswald breeds Highland cattle and sheep, so that was one of our first ports of call.

Almost all of the sheep had had their lambs recently and they were happily doing sheepish stuff in a large field, but there were a few lambs and sheep which were being kept in a sort of creche consisting of a large open ended poly tunnel which keeps the worst of the weather off them but allows them to have the benefit of fresh air.

lambs and sheep

Some of the lambs had been abandoned by their mums and others were there because their mums didn’t have enough milk for them. One wee lamb had been lying at an awkward angle inside his mum and so he was born with distorted front legs but they seem to be straightening out as he grows although I think they’re still a wee bit swollen.

There are also a few big fat sheep in with the lambs, a couple of them are past their due date for giving birth, ladies in waiting!

James kindly took time out of his busy life to drive us to the field where his ‘coos’ were busy munching away. I think everybody loves Highland cattle and I remember a time when they were really quite rare, but they are becoming more common now, partly because they are so placid. They backed away from us when we went into their field but when they realised we weren’t a threat to them they settled down and became quite interested in us I think. Some of the cows are around 15 years old and he knows them from birth so I suppose they’re like part of the family. The cow on the far right of the first photo looks rather comical as it looks like it has a set of horns front and back like a pushmi-pullyu.

Highland cattle

James Oswald and Peggy

James gives all his cows names and there are several generations of them in this field. People tend to think of Highland cows as being red haired but some of them are sort of honey blonde and even black. The cow which he called Catriona has black hair, I couldn’t help thinking that she should have been a redhead. The females seem to be kept for breeding but I suspect the males which are born have a somewhat shorter life. James Oswald says he would never want to give up on his animals to concentrate solely on his writing.

Highland cows

Highland cow
The farm’s location is wonderful, what a view he has from his front window, which looks right over the River Tay to Perthshire, or should I say Perth and Kinross nowadays? But I’ll show you that in another blogpost.

The Book of Souls by James Oswald

The Book of Souls cover

At last I got around to reading The Book of Souls by James Oswald, it’s his second book and just as good as his first one I think. The setting is Edinburgh of course, where the Lothian police are struggling with a shortage of staff. It’s the run up to Christmas and an inmate at Peterhead prison has murdered the Christmas Killer aka Donald Anderson, a serial killer who killed ten women over a ten year period – all of the murders happening at Christmas.

Just after Anderson’s burial copycat murders take place in and around Edinburgh, leading Detective Constable Tony McLean to wonder if Anderson was really murdered, or had he somehow duped everyone.

As ever this is a well written book although as not many things in life are perfect, there were a few things which I could have done without. As in his first book there’s an element of spookiness in the shape of a demonic book, things like that just don’t appeal to me because demons don’t exist.

I was surprised that there’s a Glaswegian hardman/gangster character who is almost a carbon copy of one who appears in Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street series, even down to them both living in a rough council estate but having two semi- detached houses knocked into one. It could be a coincidence I suppose or maybe Oswald did it deliberately as a sort of homage – weirder things have happened.

As a Glaswegian myself I do wonder why writers have to take themselves over to Glasgow when they want to find a hardman. They must exist in Edinburgh too and Dundee, Aberdeen and probably even in Auchtermuchty as well!

Two books feature in the storyline, one is about the earlier serial killer, giving precise details of his crimes and the other is The Book of Souls, the demonic bit which I could have done without.

Also I did notice that on page 53 there is a mistake in a character’s name – Peter Robertson’s name was morphed into Peterson, and for a minute I thought another character was being introduced. And if I’m really going to be nit-picking I did notice that there seemed to be people doing an awful lot of ‘errands’ which is a word which isn’t often used in Scotland ‘messages’ is more appropriate I think – well I told you I was nit-picking!

I read this one as part of the Read Scotland 2014 challenge, it counts towards it as although Oswald is English, he does live in Fife where he runs a 350 acre livestock farm, raising pedigree Highland cattle and New Zealand Romney sheep.


James Oswald has since been on Twitter (which I am not on) – saying that he was actually born in Scotland but went to school in England, which is presumably why he has an English accent – poor soul! Also he has never read anything by Alexander McCall Smith so the similarities with his Glasgow hardman are completely coincidental.

Read Scotland 2014

Have you signed up for Peggy Ann’s Read Scotland 2014 Challenge yet? If not then have a wee think about doing it as I’m sure you could read at least 3 or 4 books which would qualify for it without even realising. For instance did you realise that Ian Fleming would fall into the category of Scottish author, and almost all of the children’s classic authors were Scottish or of Scottish descent. Now that Jack has actually retired he is going to do this challenge, his first ever, he should have much more time for reading now, have a look at his post about it here. We will both be doing the Ben Nevis which is 13 books but we’ll end up doing far more than that I’m sure. In fact I think I might manage a purely mythical Jings, crivens and help ma boab category, and if you’ve ever read Oor Wullie you’ll know that those are all words which are used to mean flabbergasted, astonished, for goodness sake! Because I plan to read about 50 books for this challenge.

To begin with I’m reading Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe over the month of January, doing it in four chunks and writing about it each week. Join in with me if you think you’re hard enough! Judith are you still up for it?

At the same time I intend to read Lanark by Alasdair Grey as a respite from Ivanhoe. Lanark was voted the second best Scottish book recently, the first was Irvine Walsh’s Trainspotting but I don’t fancy that one at all. Below is a list of some of the Scottish fiction authors that I’ll definitely be reading during 2014, I’ll be adding more though. Books with a Scottish setting are also eligible for the challenge. Have a look at the Scottish Books Trust for more inspiration.

Iain Banks
William Boyd
John Buchan
Andrew Crumey
Alasdair Grey
A.L. Kennedy
Dennis Mackail
Compton Mackenzie
Allan Massie
James Oswald
Rosamund Pilcher
James Runcie
A.D. Scott
Walter Scott
Mary Stewart
Jessica Stirling
Josephine Tey
Alison Thirkell
Angela Thirkell

If I read just one by all of these writers then I’ll have bagged Ben Nevis and then some, but I still have my non fiction books to look through and list, it looks like 2014 is going to be a very Scottish (parochial) year for me!

Oh and I’ll be writing about some of the many children’s classics which are suitable for this challenge. You’re never too old for a good children’s book. Remember that you don’t have to have a blog to take part in this challenge.

Thanks for setting this up Peggy Ann.

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

At last I’ve got around to reading Knots and Crosses, the first in Rankin’s Rebus series which I’ve stupidly been reading all out of order. Laura recently gave me a copy of the book and I thought it would be a good idea to read it just after James Oswald’s Natural Causes, to compare their first police procedural forays.

Set mainly in Edinburgh of course, where there have been abductions and subsequent murders of young schoolgirls. What do the girls have in common, what links them to the perpetrator, why is Rebus being sent bits of string in envelopes?

I did enjoy this book which is mainly introducing Rebus to us and he is a character that I really like. On that score I did think it was a wee bit unbalanced as for me there was just a bit too much Rebus compared with the crimes and sleuthing. There were a few areas of the book which went ‘clunk’ on my ear and which I’m sure Ian Rankin would write differently now, but the first one of any series will inevitably be awkward compared with the following ones.

All in all, I do think that James Oswald’s first book Natural Causes is better than Rankin’s first effort – so no pressure then for James!

As I’ve been accompanying Rebus in his smoking, hard drinking and consequent hangovers I decided to give my liver and lungs a bit of a detox and opted to read a vintage crime by Patricia Wentworth next, a Miss Silver mystery, The Clock Struck Twelve. More on that soon.

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

My garden and a book signing

I’ve been madly busy the last week or so, sprucing the house up yet more and decluttering which is easier said than done. The death of my vacuum cleaner couldn’t have happened at a worse time, but that’s life isn’t it!

When I did find some time to blog late on last night I discovered that our increasingly dodgy WordPress connection had gone into complete meltdown, so it was no go! However it’s been sorted out now, thankfully.

So, more photos of my garden, after all we might be leaving it soon. This one is of euphorbia Fireglow and a purple blotched geranium which I believe is called Black Widow.

Scottish garden

The colour of the moment is definitely blue, I suppose that is what attracts the particular kinds of pollinating insects which are around at the moment. As you can see, I’m not precious about my grass, it can’t be called a lawn because it’s just too rough and is full of daisies and dandelions, but I like them. My mother detested daisies, it takes all kinds!

agarden 5

Amazingly we’ve been having some half decent weather over the past few days and it doesn’t take much in the way of sunshine and warmth to bring the ants out. I’ve just had to put one of those ant trap things which lure them in and poison them, they are all busy doing their thing amongst these plants and it’s a bit too close to my kitchen wall for my liking! I’m not keen on any creepy crawlies but I find ants quite horrific somehow. They remind me of nuclear submarines and are just as scary as far as I’m concerned.

Katrina's garden

It’s all looking quite lush but there isn’t too much in the way of colour so far. It wasn’t until I looked at this photo that I realised that the bottom branch of the blue cedar has turned brown, not a good omen at all. It was doing so well, and I don’t think the winter weather should have proved to be too much for it, but I suspect it’s on its way out, sadly.

So apart from cleaning and decluttering this week, the only interesting thing which I managed was to go to a book signing at my local bookshop. James Oswald was signing his book Natural Causes, it has just been published by Penguin in paperback. Prior to that James had self published it as an ebook. He is a farmer from St Andrews and seems to be a very nice chap, not at all my idea of a big farming type, which is a plus as far as I’m concerned. Peggy of Peggy Ann’s Post is his biggest fan and I hope to get around to reading his book soon.

James Oswald