The Hangman’s Song by James Oswald is the third in his Inspector McLean series set in Edinburgh.
DI McLean, seconded to the Sexual Crimes Unit (SCU) by Acting Superintendent Charles Duguid (nicknamed Dagwood) finds himself working on two separate cases – one for the SCU investigating a group of prostitutes and the subsequent death of their pimp, Malky Jennings, who was beaten to death – and the second, two suicides, which he and his DC, MacBride consider to be suspicious, and continue to investigate against Duguid’s instructions.
I think you need to have read the first two books in the series to fully understand the background or at least have read their synopses, as I found some elements of this book confusing – a small example being the name of the Acting Superintendent and his nickname, as it is not clear that Duguid and Dagwood are one and the same person. At times both names were used within a few paragraphs, making me think they could be two people.
The Hangman’s Song is a dark, tense book; crime fiction with elements of the supernatural and parapsychology thrown in. The police force is undergoing great change as it prepares for unification as Police Scotland, adding to McLean’s own difficulties with his colleagues, most of whom dislike him, regarding him as a pain in the arse and a troublemaker. He views them as incompetent, lazy and in some cases corrupt. I did get a bit tired of his constant battle with Duguid, which detracted from the story at times. All is not well in McLean’s private life either. His girlfriend Emma (who was nearly killed in the previous book, The Book of Souls) comes out of a coma, but she has lost most of her memory, regressing to an eight-year old. She moves into McLean’s house to help with her recovery.
It is a complicated book with three storylines to keep in mind, and a large cast of characters, not all of them clearly distinguishable. It’s not a book for the faint-hearted or the squeamish as there are details of some gruesome deaths, murders and beatings that the characters go through. At times I had to read with my imagination turned down – a bit like watching something gory on TV from behind my fingers.
Having said that, it was still a compelling, if disturbing, book (particularly the last chapter) that kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next.
James Oswald runs a 350 acre livestock farm in north-east Fife. In addition to his DI McClean books he has also written a fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro, set in Wales. I have the first book in the series, Dreamwalker, which I have yet to read.
Thanks to www.lovereading.co.uk for the uncorrected advance proof of this book for review. The published book will be available in February 2014.