Natural Causes by James Oswald was another audiobook I picked up on my Audible subscription. I was browsing through loads of different books, not sure which to pick. I was swithering over reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (which is of course a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling) but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give in to the hype just yet. It set me down a crime route and I started looking at crime fiction, trying to pick something out. I fancied something light-hearted (if you can call crime fiction that!), just something with a good, gripping story as I was needing a change from biographies. Christopher Brookmyre’s books seemed like the perfect thing to fit the bill but I had a listen to the previews and was a little put off by the narrator’s voice. That was when I remembered about James Oswald’s crime book set in Edinburgh.
James Oswald is a farmer as well as writer, and originally self-published his book, selling it (for free) through amazon as an ebook. It’s a really interesting self-publishing success story – Oswald now has a publisher behind him, with Penguin releasing his books in paperback. It was this story that brought the book to my attention so I decided to give the book a go. I recently read Laidlaw by William McIlvanney and loved how it evoked the city of Glasgow and I was hoping that Natural Causes would do the same for Edinburgh. Inspector McLean is the detective in Oswald’s Edinburgh, trying to hunt down the killer after a gruesome crime where an old man is disemboweled, and the killer of a young woman sacrificed in some kind of Pagan ritual in the 1940s, and also trying to find out what the link between the two is.
I really enjoyed the novel, I found it entertaining and gripping, and I admit that I kept listening to it as I walked around the house, listening to it while cleaning or doing the dishes to fit in some more reading time! It was familiar and easy to get into, and I found myself quickly warming to Inspector McLean and sympathising with him (and the troubled past that is eponymous in Detective Inspector’s – is there ever a fictional DI who doesn’t have a troubled past/marital issues/substance abuse problem?). There were a few things that I think could have been done better, for example, Inspector McLean is constantly having technology troubles – his phone runs out of battery about 17 times, he forgets to replace the tape in the answering machine, he is boggled at his colleagues abilities with comupters… I found it a little wearing after a time, and started playing some kind of game in my head whenever his incompetence with technology was mentioned, giving myself a mental bingo point. Yes, there was a hint of predictability to the plot, but I enjoyed the book all the same, and liked walking about in Edinburgh thinking about the characters and where they had been; of clairvoyants on Leith Walk (there actually is a lot shop where you can have tarot card readings), and tourists and performers on the Royal Mile during the festival.
Oswald has another book out in the Inspector McLean series called The Book of Souls. I am interested to see if having an editor will make Oswald’s writing style a little more polished – the story, characters and atmosphere are all there but I think a little bit of editing would have helped to make the book really stand out. I’ll certainly read the next instalment at some point as I did enjoy Natural Causes. I do have a few other books on my list that I plan on reading first though…incuding those two other McIlvanney books in the Laidlaw trilogy!