James Oswald – Bury Them Deep
Published by Wildfire Books hardback £16.99. Paperback (due out 3 September) £7.99. I was loaned a proof copy by a friend.
James Oswald celebrated the launch of this tenth Tony McLean novel with a mini tour of Scotland in February when gathering together in bookshops was still allowed. How long ago that now seems! I read Bury Them Deep in January, after being loaned a proof by a friend eager to help me out of a reading slump – now I’ve reread so I could write this review to celebrate the fact the novel is on the longlist for the 2020 Bloody Scotland McIlvanney Prize.
If you’ve never opened any of the Tony McLean novels, let me introduce you to the central concept: crime fiction with a supernatural twist. Detective Chief Inspector Tony McLean is no Mulder, he’s much more Scully – which is to say, he’s not a believer but firmly a sceptic – and you could write off the supernatural elements as people simply believing what they are doing is witchcraft, or caused by a demon, when they are succeeding due to the more prosaic power of money and the influence it buys. But others around McLean believe, and he has grace enough not to dismiss their outlook when so many odd things happen to and around him (my favourite is the protection of him and his home by what seems to be all the cats of Edinburgh).
We are warned by the prologue that the supernatural in Bury Them Deep is particularly gruesome, as Oswald gives us the myth of Sawney Bean and his cannibal family, who were, we are told, brought back to their Lothians roots to face justice. So we have that in the back of our head as we read chapter one, about the mysterious double life of a woman heading out to an assignation after work – and in chapter two, McLean is working the fringes of a top secret National Crime Agency financial case when one of the civilian support staff involved doesn’t show up for work. To add to his problems, he receives an unwanted reminder of a grim part of his personal past. So there are the four edges of our jigsaw puzzles begun – but it’ll be a while before the whole picture emerges.
McLean and DC Harrison go to the house of their missing civilian staffer, Anya, and the certainty of their knowledge about her starts to unravel like the loose thread of a jumper caught on a nail. A few more inquiries and they have a lot of crinkled wool in their hands and no sign that the jumper, reliable but never given much thought, ever existed. Meanwhile, it’s not a spoiler to say that things aren’t going well for Anya after her assignation takes an unexpected turn.
In speaking to Anya’s mother, Grace – a retired Detective Superintendent – McLean realises the case isn’t just deeper than he thought, it’s a lot wider too. Anya is far from the only woman who has gone missing in the city over the years, and Grace has never forgiven herself for not being able to find them. Then a discovery in a patch of burned moorland not a million miles from a reservoir not far from the city prompts terrible questions linked to Grace’s many case folders and the legend recounted in the prologue.
One thing I appreciate about crime fiction set in Edinburgh is the variety – Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh is different to Doug Johnstone’s to Val McDermid’s. And while I love the moments when I recognise somewhere familiar, I also love being shown somewhere new in and around the city I’ve lived in for the better part of 20 years. Oswald never fails to show me somewhere I’m unfamiliar with. In Bury Them Deep, it’s Gladhouse Reservoir and the surrounding woods and moorland, though I’m in no rush to explore the area after reading this novel, set in a scorchingly hot summer but chillingly spooky and with the hint that you’d never quite know who or what you’d bump into on an excursion out here.
In about 450 pages, Oswald gives us secret societies, ancient sects and peculiar legends. There is cruelty and violence. Then rescue. Then scapegoats – but with a hint of McLean taking his revenge… Ten Tony McLean books. What ancient entity do I make my sacrifice to in an effort to ensure ten more?
Follow the author on Twitter here: @SirBenfro
You can read my review of the ninth Tony McLean novel, Cold As The Grave, over here.
James Oswald in conversation with fellow crime fiction author Neil Broadfoot at Waterstones Dunfermline in February – I can’t wait for the return of the simple pleasure of going to a bookshop to see authors talk about their novels!