- Author: James Oswald
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Copyright © 2021 James Oswald
The right of James Oswald to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook in Great Britain by WILDFIRE
an imprint of HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP in 2021
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
Ebook conversion by Avon DataSet Ltd, Arden Court, Alcester, Warwickshire
Cover design by Patrick Insole
Cover images © Yolande de Kort/Trevillion Images, Phichai/Shutterstock (flames), nattapon sukjit/Shutterstock and warat42/Shutterstock (smoke)
eISBN: 978 1 4722 7616 2
HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
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About the Author
Also by James Oswald
About the Book
Have you read Nothing to Hide?
About the Author
James Oswald is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling Inspector McLean series of detective mysteries, as well as the new DC Constance Fairchild series. James’s first two books, NATURAL CAUSES and THE BOOK OF SOULS, were both short-listed for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award. WHAT WILL BURN is the eleventh book in the Inspector McLean series.
James farms Highland cows by day, writes disturbing fiction by night.
Praise for James Oswald:
‘The new Ian Rankin’ Daily Record
‘Oswald’s writing is a class above’ Express
‘Creepy, gritty and gruesome’ Sunday Mirror
‘In a league of his own as a thriller writer’ Crime Squad
‘Oswald is among the leaders in the new batch of excellent Scottish crime writers’ Daily Mail
‘Crime fiction’s next big thing’ Sunday Telegraph
‘Creepy, gritty and gruesome’ Sunday Telegraph
‘Hugely enjoyable’ Mirror
By James Oswald and available from Headline
Constance Fairchild Series
No Time to Cry
Nothing to Hide
Inspector McLean Series
Cold as the Grave
Bury Them Deep
What Will Burn
About the Book
The latest book in the Sunday Times bestselling phenomenon that is the Inspector McLean series, from one of Scotland’s most celebrated crime writers
The charred remains of an elderly woman are discovered in a burned ot 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 . . .
For all the witches
This book is very much a product of lockdown, even though the actual restrictions had very little impact on my rural and isolated life. You can’t write contemporary fiction in a bubble though, and the constantly changing and ever-worsening news made it hard at times to concentrate on the work. I don’t think I would have managed it without the regular emails from readers who had enjoyed Tony McLean’s previous adventures and took the time to let me know. There’s nothing quite perks a writer up like being told their words have been appreciated. So thank you, all the readers out there. You make what we do worthwhile.
Rural and isolated my lifestyle might be, but a small army of other people have helped in the making of this book. I am as ever totally indebted to my amazing agent, Juliet Mushens, and her tireless assistant Liza DeBlock. Thank you both. I’m so glad it’s all about ME now!
The team at Wildfire have done great service over the past year too. Thank you Alex, Ella, Jo and Serena. Your enthusiasm keeps me going. A big thank you to Sarah Bance, whose swift and detailed copy editing weeded out my worst errors. And a thank you and farewell to Jennifer Leech, whose heroic publicity efforts included bribing booksellers with chocolate and me with gin. Works every time.
A big thank you to Ian Hanmore, too, for his audio narration over the course of the series. More than anyone else, he is the voice of Tony. And Madame Rose and Kirsty Ritchie and Janie Harrison and, and . . .
And last, but never least, a huge thanks to Barbara, whose surname I stole for my detective all those many years ago.
She always knew she would die like this.
They come in the night, crashing through the undergrowth and pushing through the trees. They don’t use the path that meanders up the slope from the road; that would be too easy. Neither do they come in one band, but surround her cottage as if she might slip away round the back while they hammer on her door at the front. She could no more slip away than stand, but that makes no difference to them. A mob knows no reason, and this is most surely a mob.
She glances towards the unlit fire, the cat lying hopefully in front of it. ‘You should go. While you can. Find a safe home.’
It looks at her with wary eyes, ears cocked at the sound coming closer, ever closer. That stare is knowing, calculating. A moment’s hesitation, and then it rises, stretches, nods its head once, and disappears. She is relieved. Her time may have come, but the cat still has many lives to live.
The sound of breaking glass comes a few minutes later. Stupid, really. The door wasn’t locked. Someone curses loudly as they climb in through the back window, and she catches a whiff