The Book of Souls by James Oswald

Penguin, 2013, 441 p including a short story, The Final Reel, which is rather abrupt.

The Book of Souls cover

This is the second of Oswald’s Inspector MacLean novels which he first electronically self-published before gaining a book contract at Penguin.

In a disturbing echo of the “Christmas Killer” murders whose perpetrator Inspector Tony McLean was instrumental in catching several years before, a succession of women is being found naked, with their throats cut, staked out under bridges over running water. A local journalist with a new book on the previous killings is suggesting the police got the wrong man, McLean’s superior Inspector Duguid keeps taking officers away from his investigation and McLean himself is forced to endure counselling. In addition to the murders McLean has a series of mysterious fires destroying old industrial premises around Edinburgh on his caseload.

The book is certainly readable if with some workmanlike prose at times – but then I’m not overly familiar with the modern crime novel so this may be what’s expected. I also felt that Oswald over-eggs the pudding a bit with the identity of the last potential murder victim.

As with Oswald’s first McLean book, Natural Causes, there is a tinge of the supernatural to the proceedings. The Liber animorum, the Book of Souls of the title, is said to weigh souls – and take over those found wanting. (My hang-up I know, but as an explanation for human depravity I have always found the supernatural a total cop-out.)

Pedant’s corner:-
One count of “sunk” for “sank”. “Ploiped” appears to be a coinage of Oswald’s but may only be a typo for “plopped.” “A half a dozen” has one “a” too many. “Happy Christmas.” (Where I’m from the greeting is “Merry Christmas.”) A judge bangs a gavel – not in a British court I’m afraid.

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