Chilling Leith tram digs inspire best-selling author James Oswald’s latest supernatural Edinburgh crime novel

Excavation of the medieval cemetery at South Leith Parish Church as part of the Trams to Newhaven project inspired James Oswald’s latest novel, All That Lives

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The twelfth book in his award-winning Edinburgh detective series Inspector McLean finds Oswald’s best-selling copper investigating the discovery of human remains in the historic graveyard, unearthed during the Trams to Newhaven excavation. A case of art imitating life?

“I read the report online but I didn’t really want to know who the body was, it wasn’t really important, but finding it was the spark of an idea,” he explains, adding after a moment of thought, “That and the fact that it was found in Leith, where Madame Rose lives. Could they be connected? I wondered.”

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Author James Oswald has created a parallel Edinburgh where crime and the supernatural collide

In the latest in the ongoing series, two victims with nothing to connect them other than someone buried them in the exact same way catch Tony McLean’s eye. There’s a twist though, the bodies were buried seven centuries apart.

The mystery begins when the construction of a tramline at South Leith Cemetery unearths a hoax body – some suspect it is a gruesome sacrifice, placed for a purpose.

When a second body, that of a woman who disappeared 30 years ago, is unearthed, the similarities between her death and that of the former woman suggest something even more disturbing.

Drawn into the investigation, McLean finds himself torn between a disturbing trend of drug-related deaths in and around the capital and uncovering what really connects the bodies. When a third body is discovered, however, he begins to suspect some dark purpose at play and that whoever put them there is far from done.

everything that lives

All That Lives finds ​Oswald​, who also writes the popular DC series Constance​ ​Fairchild, once again breathing life into its present-day parallel Edinburgh, a place where crime and the supernatural not only coexist but frequently intertwine.

It is in this world, over the past decade, that regular characters like retired desk sergeant Grumpy Bob, the aforementioned mystic Madame Rose, DS Janie Harrison and her nemesis, the evil Mrs. Saifre have become de increasingly familiar to readers, often appearing at the most unexpected times to keep the action going and the pages turning.

“Characters are the most important thing and fuel serial fiction well because you have the time and space to give each one their own life,” says the writer when asked about the popularity of his creations which appear book after book, evolving and aging. as they do.

Oswald continues, “That’s what readers really like, that’s why soap operas are so popular, people like to live someone else’s life for a little while, so if you get your characters nailed, the story comes naturally from that.”

On the farm with James Oswald

Everything that lives is born from this approach. With his cast in place, all he had to do was decide what he wanted from the plot.

He recalls: “It all came out of the discovery of the body in the South Leith Kirk pit during the excavations for the tram works. It was a brilliant idea for a story. I had all my characters, developed over 11 books previous ones, just throw at them and ask them, ‘What could that mean?'”

Published Thursday, February 17, All That Lives revisits historic Leith Cemetery throughout the book, which was conceived, developed, written and will be published long before the work on the tram that inspired it was completed.

“In their defence, I write very quickly…”, laughs the author who, by day, raises Highland cows and Romney sheep on his farm near Newburgh.

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Meet James Oswald, the supernatural crime writer hailed as ‘the new Ian Rankin’

Readers were first introduced to McLean’s Edinburgh and its cast of good, bad, and quirky characters in the 2012 novel Natural Causes, which was shortlisted for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award, as was the second from the series, The Book of Souls.

Over 12 books, his designs have policed ​​an Edinburgh that is instantly recognizable and yet slightly out of step with the one we know.

Looking back, Oswald reflects, “I never had a big story arc in mind for the books, I don’t know what’s going to happen in Inspector McLean Volume 16, but I like to let the open things up and have possibilities that I can then pick up in a later book to run with. It’s a series, so I always think something has to happen next.

He continues, “In an individual book, I’ll remember things from previous books, usually because someone asked me a question on Twitter and I was like, ‘Oh, I remember now. That kind of sparks an idea, which is totally how I write. I’m not planning much although I like a nice fixed opening scene. I write better when I have this sorted.

That said, and without giving away any spoilers, McLean admits that All That Lives’ bluff ending left him with one worry, one he wants to rest from the get-go.

“I may have made my life a bit difficult there, it’s not Tony McLean’s last book but a lot of people are going to ask me, ‘Is this the last?’ However, this is the last book of my current contract with Wildfire.

He reassures his readers: “There will be a volume 13 and there will be a volume 14 too, because it would be bad luck to leave it on volume 13.”

That’s not to say the prolific Oswald doesn’t have other new projects in the works as well. He is considering a possible spin-off novel starring DS Janie Harrison, but he fears readers will see it as an Inspector McLean novel without McLean. He also “drafted” ideas for another Scottish crime series with all new characters.

“It would make sense in a kind of Lewis after Morse to give Janie Harrison her own book. So I could try to do that next,” he mused.

All That Lives by James Oswald​ is out​ Thursday, February 17​,​ in Hardback by Wildfire​, priced at £16.99

Meet the Author: An Evening with James Oswald, Waterstone’s West End, Princes Street, Tuesday 8 March, 6pm, tickets here

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