What Will Burn by James Oswald

What Will Burn, the eleventh of James Oswald’s books featuring Tony McLean, sees my favourite detective back from suspension, demoted to DI, but rather pleased to be getting back to doing what he does best. There is a fly in the ointment, however, in the shape of the new Chief Superintendent, Gail Elmwood. Having intervened in Tony’s case to prevent his punishment being any more severe, she oversteps the mark in what she expects from him in return. It’s difficult to decide whether her behaviour or that of Tommy Fielding was the more disturbing.

In a cottage deep in the woods, the charred remains of Cecily Slater are found and, at first, assumed to be the result of a tragic accident. The postmortem soon puts paid to that idea; before being set on fire she had been brutally beaten. Meanwhile, Tommy Fielding QC, who habitually defends men accused of violence against women, has been holding seminars on men’s rights in an Edinburgh hotel, and preaching his particularly offensive brand of misogyny. More men die in ‘weird’ circumstances, and are handed over to Tony to investigate, but could they all be connected?

I am not normally a fan of the supernatural, but it seems perfectly plausible here, and gives the Tony McLean books a unique quality, something that makes them stand out from the crowd. In What Will Burn, James Oswald skillfully blends the historical with the contemporary, and shows how the negative attitudes of some men towards women have never really changed.

The role of women is very much at the heart of What Will Burn. James Oswald writes wonderfully convincing female characters; in fact the majority of McLean’s team are female officers, two of whom get promoted in this story, and it’s good to see Janey Harrison going from strength to strength.

Tony’s interactions with Mrs McCutcheon’s cat when he gets home late in the evening, and the scene where Cecily Slater’s cat seems to be waiting for him, bring a touch of humour that lightens the all-pervading sense of unease in What Will Burn. This series just keeps getting better, and I look forward (patiently) to reading the next one.

Thanks to Wildfire and NetGalley for a digital copy to review. #WhatWillBurn #JamesOswald

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