Introducing DI Tony McLean
The Inspector McLean books are relatively new on the scene – Natural Causes being published just four years ago in 2013 – but Tony McLean has been around a lot longer. I created him in the early 1990s, as a support character in a comic script I was writing on spec for 2000AD. In that story he was confronted with the ghost of an unnamed young man, wandering the dark streets of Edinburgh attempting to right the wrong that had caused his death. McLean’s dilemma was whether to accept the impossible existence of ghosts in a world where nobody believed in them, or never solve the case.
That script was never published, and neither were the other comic script and two novels in which I re-used the character, each time in a supporting role, each time changing him ever so slightly. Something about him stuck with me though, and when I turned away from writing epic fantasy to something a bit more contemporary and dark, I felt it was time to promote Tony to lead role.
It was the early days of blogging, the turn of the millennium, and a group of like-minded writers used to set a monthly short story challenge, loosely in the crime fiction genre. I’d been struggling with a story about lost souls trapped on celluloid when the challenge came along with the theme of a police auction lot. In that wonderfully serendipitous way, the ideas interlocked and the first DI McLean short story – ‘The Final Reel’ – was the result.
Not that many people noticed, but it still gave me the kick start I needed. I wrote another five DI McLean short stories in quick succession, developing the character further from the rather one-dimensional copper he had been in the comic scripts. One of these shorts was called ‘Natural Causes’, and it was picked up by online crime fiction magazine Spinetingler. They even paid me money for it; the first I had earned for my writing in thirteen years.
By the time I decided to rewrite Natural Causes as a full-length novel, Tony McLean’s character had begun to round out. Unlike most loner cops, he wasn’t dependent on alcohol to blot out the horrors, but he was certainly damaged goods. As we found out in The Book of Souls, the terrible tragedy in his life – the abduction and murder of his fiancé by a serial killer – was what stopped him from forming close relationships, both personal and professional, and drove him to keep on searching for the truth regardless of the harm its exposure might cause to those around him, or to himself.
The comics medium is more open than the crime fiction genre to stories where ghosts and demons shimmer unseen on the fringes, and so the Edinburgh McLean inhabits is not so unlike our own, but also completely different. In The Hangman’s Song he is confronted with the possibility that something is feeding on the despair of the city’s disaffected youth. In Dead Men’s Bones it is the discovery of bodies sacrificed down the years that pose the question what were they sacrificed to? As the series progresses, so McLean is constantly forced to ask, do these supernatural creatures exist, or is it just that people believe in them enough to do unspeakable things in their names?
I wanted to keep that conflict between the rational, logical world of the detective and the supremely irrational world of the occult, and so Tony is something of a weirdness magnet. He is the detective to whom strange things happen, and the one who is handed all the unusual cases. His reputation precedes him, making him something of a pariah, but he also has the grudging respect of those who do work with him, as a detective who won’t take the easy route, who cares more about finding justice for the victims than what his actions might mean for his career. He’s come a long way from that naïve detective I created more than a quarter of a century ago.
How many James Oswald novels have you read? Take a look at all the Inspector McLean books in order here.