Book Review: Natural Causes by James Oswald


17694522Title: Natural Causes

Author: James Oswald

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Supernatural

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 5 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Short-Listed for the prestigious Crime Writers Association (CWA) Debut Dagger prize, ‘Natural Causes’ is the first of an ongoing series featuring Edinburgh-based Detective Inspector Anthony McLean. In a world where demons are not supposed to exist, he is one of the few unlucky enough to be able to sense their presence.

When Edinburgh police find the killer of a prominent city elder less than twenty-four hours after the crime, they are justifiably pleased. So the murderer has killed himself; that just saves the time and cost of a trial. But a second murder days later bears haunting similarities to the first, even though once more the murderer swiftly confesses and kills himself.

Detective Inspector Anthony McLean is investigating the discovery of a dead girl, walled up in the basement of an old Edinburgh mansion. She has been brutally murdered, her internal organs removed and placed around her in six preserving jars. The evidence suggests this all happened over sixty years ago, an attempt to re-enact an ancient ceremony that by trapping a demon in the dead girl’s body would supposedly confer immortality on the six men who took one of her organs each.

McLean’s grandmother – the woman who raised him after his parents were killed when he was a young boy – dies after months in a coma following a stroke. On top of this he has to investigate a series of unusual, violent suicides and a cat-burglar who targets the homes of the recently dead. But as another prominent Edinburgh businessman is killed, he begins to suspect that there may be a connection between the murders, the suicides and the ritual killing of the girl found in the basement. The same names keep cropping up. He just can’t find a rational explanation as to how that connection works.

As he digs deeper, and as the coincidences stack up, McLean is forced to consider an irrational explanation. Could there really be something evil stalking the city he has sworn to protect? And if so, how on earth can he hope to stop it?

Before writing down my own review of Natural Causes, I browsed through some of the reviews on Goodreads, and noticed that other reviewers complained about the supernatural aspect of the book, claiming it’s used as a deus ex machina. To each their own, but the supernatural tidbits of this book were actually my favorite, and had they not been included, I probably would’ve rated the book a four. Either way, don’t just ditch the book because it mentions the supernatural. Hardly enough police procedurals do this, and do it in a way as convincing as in this book.

On to the plot. Coinciding with the murder of prominent society members, DI Anthony McLean’s police department stumbles upon a cold case in the form of a young girl’s body tied to the basement floor of a dilipidated building with her organs removed and placed into alcoves around her body. That alone had me hooked. From the start there are clues to some kind of devil worship, and it’s up to McLean and his team to find out what’s going on, to connect the dots and solve this young girl’s murder. But on top of that, McLean has to deal with his grandma’s passing, classify some violent suicides that may or may not be linked to the murders, and solve the recent string of murders haunting town.

Tony, or Anthony, is brilliant. He’s the kind of flawed protagonist who manages to walk the line between flawed and too flawed. The entire police department is filled with colorful figures who bring something different to the table. The plot is fast-paced, the writing is solid, and if I didn’t need at least some hours of sleep, I would’ve read this book in one sitting: even if it meant staying up all night. I also loved it when the characters talked Scottish, and when some Scottish customs were discussed and added.

Fans of supernatural thrillers and police procedurals will love this. It’s the kind of book I’ve been waiting ages for, one that successfully merges these two genres.


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