Wednesday Windback with James Oswald @SirBenfro

Today I’m delighted to revisit my Five on Friday interview with James Oswald which was first posted in October 2019. James is the author of the Detective Inspector McLean series of crime novels and there are currently twelve available. His latest creation is Constance Fairchild, with three titles in this hopefully, ongoing series. 

James has also written an epic fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro. All five books in the series are published by Penguin and available in book stores, online, as audio books.

In his spare time he runs a 350 acre livestock farm in North East Fife, where he raises pedigree Highland Cattle and New Zealand Romney Sheep.

Over to James:

Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?

This is almost impossible. There are so many songs! On the basis that if you asked me again next week I’d likely come up with five entirely different choices, here goes:

Tell Me Easter’s on Friday by The Associates.
It could have been this, or Gloomy Sunday. Billy Mackenzie’s incredible voice and Alan Rankine’s musical inventiveness were part of my early introduction to Scottish pop music. For a shy boy brought up on Abba and Flanders and Swann, hearing this for the first time aged thirteen was a revelation.

One Of Our Submarines by Thomas Dolby
Everyone remembers She Blinded Me With Science, or perhaps Hyperactive, but the hypnotic bass line and drum machine in this song pops up in my head at the strangest of times. I even hear it with the crackles on my somewhat scratched LP. It came out a few years earlier, but for me it’s the summer I left school, totally unprepared for the world that lay ahead of me.

Shirley MacLaine by The Jazz Butcher
This is the soundtrack of my university years, manic and irreverent. I’ve been a huge fan of the Jazz Butcher (aka Pat Fish) going on thirty years now.

Poke by Frightened Rabbit
I discovered Frightened Rabbit at much the same time as my parents died, and the melancholy of the lyrics fits my mood then perfectly.

I Became A Prostitute by The Twilight Sad
My return home to Scotland, taking on the farm, sudden and unexpected success as an author, all to the background music of new Scottish bands I was discovering.

What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.

Chocolate – my go-to brain food when I’m writing. My productivity as an author would plummet should chocolate no longer be available.

Whisky – for when the words run out, as they eventually do.

Cheese – because a world without cheese is not one worth living in.

Music – both to listen to and to (try to) play. I am an unskilled if enthusiastic guitar and banjo player.

Books – in which category I of course include comics.

Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?

You don’t have to be good at something straight out of the gate. It’s okay to suck at first, you’ll get better with experience and practice.

Don’t listen to people who tell you that you suck.

It’s always worse in your imagination. Spend a bit less time worrying about what could go wrong and how. (This, incidentally, works for writing too. It’s always worse in the reader’s imagination, so leave them to do as much of that themselves as possible.)

Adults are fallible, unpredictable and inconsistent. Accept that you’ll never be able to understand or second guess them. Even when you are one (especially when you are one).

Be wary of advice from familiar-looking old men, particularly if they have beards.

Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you

I have an allergy to mushrooms. Generally speaking, if I inadvertently eat one it comes back up again quickly and violently. People ask if it’s any particular kind of mushroom I’m allergic to. I have to say I’ve not really experimented much.

My first paid job was on a turkey farm in the run-up to Christmas. I spent the first week in the plucking shed, removing feather stubs from the plucked birds, then graduated onto sorting the carcasses by weight and packing up orders. I’ve rarely eaten turkey since, and never at Christmas, because the smell of it cooking takes me right back.

I broke my leg falling off a cliff during the holidays, and arrived for my first term at a new boarding school with a plaster cast all the way from foot to hip. Boys being boys, I earned the nickname ‘cripple’ for a while. They gave up when I became the youngest member of the house team that won the school swimming championships at the end of that year.

My mother wanted to call me Richard, but my father vetoed it on the grounds that all the Richard Oswalds in the family had been ne’er-do-wells. One particularly notable Richard Oswald was fond of betting on the horses and built Ayr Race Course. He lost all the family money and ended up selling the family home, Auchincruive, to pay his debts. The Auchincruive estate later became the headquarters and main teaching campus of the Scottish Agricultural College.

My grandfather on my mother’s side – Patrick McLaughlin – was vicar of St Anne’s Church in Soho, London, before and during WWII. He was friends with Dorothy L Sayers, who gave my mother her first cat (appropriately enough called Harriet).

Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.

As my brother is fond of reminding me when I moan at him about how impossibly busy my life is, I’ve already got what I always wanted – to be successfully published and to run my own farm. That’s two things that would be on a bucket list should I have one, I guess. Other than that, I find it quite hard to think of things. I’d love to travel more, perhaps, but nowhere in particular. Being an introvert there’s no one I’d particularly like to meet (and it’s always a danger meeting your heroes anyway). I’ve always been a bit of a petrolhead and an Alfa Romeo fan, so perhaps I’d have driving a pre-war Alfa 8C somewhere high up there on this imaginary list.

So, books, farm, travel, Alfa. If I’m cheating, one more thing for the bucket …

*strokes chin contemplatively*

I know. Write some more comics. It would be good to be a 2000AD script droid again.

James’ Books

(NB This post features Affiliate links from which I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases)

Inspector McLean series

Natural Causes #1

Edinburgh is horrified by a series of bloody killings.

Deaths for which there appears to be neither rhyme nor reason, and which leave the city’s police stumped.

DI Tony McLean is focused on the investigation, but his attention is drawn by a chilling cold case:

A young girl, ritualistically murdered.

Her remains hidden for sixty years.

It seems impossible that there could be any connection between the cases, but McLean starts to wonder . . .

Because if it’s true, they might be facing an evil beyond anything they ever imagined.

The Book of Souls #2

Every year for ten years, a young woman’s body was found in Edinburgh at Christmas time: naked, throat slit, body washed clean.

Ten years, ten women.

The final victim, Kirsty Summers, was Detective Constable Tony McLean’s fiancée. But the Christmas Killer made a mistake. In a cellar under a shop, McLean found a torture chamber and put an end to the brutal killing spree.

Twelve years later, and a fellow prisoner has just murdered the incarcerated Christmas Killer. But with the arrival of the festive season comes a body. A young woman: naked, washed, her throat cut.

Is this a copycat killer?

Was the wrong man behind bars all this time?

Or is there a more sinister, frightening explanation?

McLean must revisit the most disturbing case of his life and discover what he missed before the killer strikes again . . .

The Hangman’s Song #3

A young man is found hanging by a rope in his Edinburgh home. A simple, sad suicide, yet Detective Inspector Tony McLean is puzzled by the curious suicide note.

So when a second hanged man and another strange note appear, McClean sees a sinister pattern.

Investigating a brutal prostitution and human trafficking ring, McLean struggles to find time to link the two suicides. But the discovery of a third convinces him of malicious intent.

Digging deeper, McLean finds answers something terrifying stalking the city streets.

And it’s much closer to home than he expects . . .

Dead Men’s Bones #4

A family lies slaughtered in an isolated house in North East Fife . . .

Morag Weatherly and her two young daughters have been shot by husband Andrew, an influential politician, before he turned the gun on himself.

But what would cause a rich, successful man to snap so suddenly?

For Inspector Tony McLean, this apparently simple but high-profile case leads him into a world of power and privilege. And the deeper he digs, the more he realizes he’s being manipulated by shadowy factions.

Under pressure to wrap up the case, McLean instead seeks to uncover layers of truth – putting the lives of everyone he cares about at risk . . .

Prayer for the Dead #5

‘Are you ready to be reborn?’
The search for a missing journalist is called off as a body is found at the scene of a carefully staged murder.
In a sealed chamber, deep in the heart of Gilmerton Cove, a mysterious network of caves and passages sprawling beneath Edinburgh, the victim has undergone a macabre ritual of purification.
Inspector Tony McLean knew the dead man, and can’t shake off the suspicion that there is far more to this case than meets the eye. The baffling lack of forensics at the crime scene seems impossible. But it is not the only thing about this case that McLean will find beyond belief.
Teamed with the most unlikely and unwelcome of allies, he must track down a killer driven by the darkest compulsions, who will answer only to a higher power . . .
‘Are you ready for the mysteries to be revealed?’

The Damage Done #6

No good deed goes unpunished…

When a police raid in Edinburgh goes horribly wrong, the only silver lining for Inspector Tony McLean is a discovery that could lead to a long-lost girl from his early days on the beat.

Haunted by the mystery of what happened to her, McLean begins to dig into a case he thought long buried.

But the shadows of the past are soon eclipsed by crimes in the present as a series of strange and gruesome deaths shock the city.

As McLean’s investigation draws him ever deeper into the upper echelons of Edinburgh society, it will not only be his career on the line – but his life as well…

Written in Bones #7

The roots of murder run deep . . .

When a body is found in a tree in The Meadows, Edinburgh’s scenic parkland, forensics suggest the corpse has fallen from a great height.

Which makes Detective Inspector Tony McLean ask the question: was it an accident, or a murder designed to send a chilling message? . . .

As McLean traces the victim’s journey, it takes him back to Edinburgh’s past, and through its underworld – crossing paths with some of its most dangerous and most vulnerable people.

And waiting at the end of it all, is the truth behind a crime that cuts to the very heart of the city . . .

The Gathering Dark #8

A truck driver loses control in central Edinburgh, ploughing into a crowded bus stop and spilling his vehicle’s toxic load. The consequences are devastating.

DI Tony McLean witnesses the carnage.

Taking control of the investigation, he soon realises there is much that is deeply amiss – and everyone involved seems to have something to hide.

But as McLean struggles to uncover who caused the tragedy, a greater crisis develops:

The new Chief Superintendent’s son is missing, last seen in the area of the crash . . .

Cold as the Grave #9

Her lifeless body is hidden in the dark corner of a basement room, a room which seems to have been left untouched for decades. A room which feels as cold as the grave.

As a rowdy demonstration makes its slow and vocal way along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, Detective Chief Inspector Tony McLean’s team are on stand-by for any trouble. The newly promoted McLean is distracted, inexplicably drawn to a dead-end mews street… and a door, slightly ajar, which leads to this poor girl’s final resting place.

But how long has she been there, in her sleep of death? The answers are far from what McLean or anyone else could expect. The truth far more chilling than a simple cold case…

Bury them Deep #10

When a member of the Police Scotland team fails to clock-in for work, concern for her whereabouts is immediate… and the discovery of her burnt-out car in remote woodland to the south of Edinburgh sets off a desperate search for the missing woman.

Meanwhile, DCI Tony McLean and the team are preparing for a major anti-corruption operation – one which may raise the ire of more than a few powerful people in the city. Is Anya Renfrew’s disappearance a co-incidence or related to the case?

McLean’s investigations suggest that perhaps that Anya isn’t the first woman to have mysteriously vanished in these ancient hills. Once again, McLean can’t shake the feeling that there is a far greater evil at work here…

What Will Burn #11

The charred remains of an elderly woman are discovered in a burned out gamekeepers cottage, hidden away in woodland to the west of Edinburgh.

What is at first assumed to be a tragic accident begins to take on a more sinister aspect as Detective Inspector Tony McLean digs deeper.

There is far more to the victim than her humble surroundings suggest . . .

All That Lives #12

Two victims. Nothing connects them, except that someone buried them in the exact same way.
Seven hundred years apart.

An archaeological dig at the old South Leith parish kirkyard has turned up a mysterious body dating from around seven hundred years ago. Some suspect that this gruesome discovery is a sacrifice, placed there for a specific purpose.

Then a second body is unearthed. This victim went missing only thirty years ago – but the similarities between her death and the ancient woman’s suggest something even more disturbing.

Drawn into the investigation, Inspector McLean finds himself torn between a worrying trend of violent drug-related deaths and uncovering what truly connects these bodies. When a third body is discovered, and too close for comfort, he begins to suspect dark purpose at play – and that whoever put them there is far from finished.

Constance Fairchild series

No Time to Crime #1

Undercover ops are always dangerous, but DC Constance Fairchild never expected things to go this wrong.

Returning to their base of operations, an anonymous office in a shabby neighbourhood, she finds the bloodied body of her boss, and friend, DI Pete Copperthwaite. He’s been executed – a single shot to the head.

In the aftermath, it seems someone in the Met is determined to make sure that blame for the wrecked operation falls squarely on Con’s shoulders. She is cut loose and cast out, angry and alone with her grief… right until the moment someone also tries to put a bullet through her head.

There’s no place to hide, and no time to cry.

Nothing to Hide #2

Suspended from duty after her last case ended in the high-profile arrest of one of Britain’s wealthiest men, DC Constance Fairchild is trying to stay away from the limelight. Fate has other ideas . . .

Coming home to her London flat, Constance stumbles across a young man, bloodied, mutilated and barely alive. She calls it in and is quickly thrown into the middle of a nationwide investigation . . . It seems that the victim is just the latest in a string of similar ritualistic attacks.

No matter that she is off-duty, no matter that there are those in the Met who would gladly see the back of her, Con can’t shake her innate determination to bring the monsters responsible for this brutality to justice.

Trouble always seems to find her, and even if she has nothing to hide, perhaps she has everything to lose . . .

Nowhere to Run #3

On compassionate leave following the death of her mother, Detective Constable Constance Fairchild thought renting a cottage near Aberystwyth, Wales would get her far enough from London to finally relax. But trouble always seems to find Con, and it’s not long before she is cooling off in a police station cell after defending herself from two would-be rapists.

In custody she meets a young Ukrainian woman, Lila, who confides in Con that she’s been forced by her manipulative boyfriend into prostitution and running drugs. Fearing for her life, she has run away from him, only to end up in the cells.

Con offers to help, but when her cottage is ransacked, and Lila subsequently disappears, she realises she’s stumbled into very dangerous company. International drug smugglers and ruthless people traffickers – those who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets. Out here at the end of the line, will Con find that there’s nowhere left to run?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.