The Hangman’s Song – James Oswald

Title – The Hangman’s Song

Author – James Oswald

Published – 2014

Genre – Crime fiction

It is purely by accident that I followed one book set in Glasgow with one set in Edinburgh, but other than the Scottish setting these two books are quite different approaches to crime fiction. The Hangman’s Song is the third in the ‘Inspector McLean’ series by James Oswald and the first of his books that I have read.

A young colleague attends a suicide and asks for McLean’s help when he suspects that all may not be as it seems. Initially this is just based on a hunch but as the evidence is collected it does point to something other than a simple suicide. A second, very similar suicide suggests that the police have every reason to pursue the investigation however things aren’t that straight-forward. Detective Inspector Tony McLean seems to be quite a sober man (not literally although neither is he an alcoholic) who takes his job and his quest for justice very seriously. He also seems to be a pretty unpopular one with his colleagues but particularly with his current boss. And his boss wants things wrapped up quickly and preferably without any input from McLean.

The book certainly packs a lot in. As well as trying to, virtually singled-handedly, investigate the suspicious suicides McLean is also working on an investigation within the Sexual Crime Unit (Vice) after a group of young women are discovered being trafficked from Leith. His involvement in this investigation leads him into even more conflict with his colleagues.

McLean also has a complicated personal life, supporting  Emma, a young woman who has been in a coma. This part of the story harks back to the previous book in the series and here I felt I was missing out – there is a lot of backstory and in avoiding repeating the details for readers familiar with the series I felt I didn’t really know enough about what had happened. This part of the story – exploring his relationship and helping Emma recover her memory also hints at some supernatural events.

McLean is a likeable, if rather dour, main protagonist. The disadvantage of his fragmented working relationships, however, is that I didn’t feel that I got to know any of his colleagues and I suspect that they may have played more substantial roles in earlier books. Although Oswald doesn’t shy away from violence and gore most of this is meted out out of ‘sight’ of the reader. I enjoyed the Edinburgh / Leith setting and although showing a darker side than tourists may see this wasn’t so gritty that it would put anyone off visiting! A shame that I’ve left it so long to read a book by James Oswald but I will be sure to read more in the series.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this book.




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