For Our Sins – James Oswald | Blog Tour Extract | #ForOurSins | @SirBenfro @Wildfirebks @gray_books

The wages of sin is death.

The partial collapse of a disused Edinburgh church reveals a dead body in the rubble, his head badly smashed by falling masonry. Soon identified as an old ex-con – Kenny Morgan – his death is put down to a heart attack and deemed non-suspicious.

Tony McLean is approached by a notorious crime lord who suggests the police should be looking into Morgan’s death more closely. Despite struggling with his recent retirement, he is reluctant to involve himself. But when a second man is found dead in another disused church, his forehead branded with a cross, this time it is clearly murder.

There’s a killer stalking the streets of Edinburgh. Is it time for McLean to get back to doing what he does best?

My thanks to Graeme Williams for the tour invite and the kind offer of a review copy. I have yet to receive the book but look forward to reading – James Oswald is a new author to me and For Our Sins, the latest book in the Inspector McLean series (no 13) looks a gritty and exciting read. Published by Wildfire, it is available in ebook, audio and hardback formats (15 February 2024) with the paperback following on 1 August 2024. For my turn on the tour, I’m delighted to share an extract.


She’d seen the church before, too many times to recall. If she thought about it, Detective Sergeant Janie Harrison could probably remember a time when it was still being used, but she’d be hard pushed to say exactly when the windows had been boarded up, and the graffiti had started climbing the old sandstone walls like colourful mould. It was all but impossible to tell how long ago, what with the pandemic losing everyone a couple of years, but a while back the scaffolding had gone up at one end. Not building work, so much as an effort to stop the whole place from falling down. It hadn’t worked; a section of roof caving in after the heavy winter snow. And now that spring was on the way, and the weather was improving, someone had finally signed off on a proper demolition.

‘Sad when these old buildings are left to rot.’

Beside her in the driving seat, Detective Constable Cass Mitchell guided their pool car slowly under the police cordon tape hastily strung across the road and lifted up for them by a bored uniform. Janie thought she might have recognised him from her old station, before she moved into plain clothes and one of the city’s Major Incident Teams, but before she could get a proper look, Mitchell had moved on towards a suitable parking space.

‘I guess there’s not enough people believe in God these days. All too busy worshipping in the St James Quarter of a Sunday.’

Mitchell glanced across at Janie as she switched off the engine, an expression of mock horror on her face. ‘That’s a bit cynical for this time of the morning.’

‘Well, it’s true isn’t it, Cass. No congregation means no collection.’ Janie climbed out of the car and felt the cool morning air on her face, the slight scent of the Forth on the air all but obliterated by the exhaust fumes spilling over from nearby Ferry Road. She waved a hand at the derelict church. ‘Place like this would cost a fortune to heat, and that’s even before fuel prices went mental. I’m surprised it’s taken them this long to turn it into flats.’

‘Not exactly the best part of town for a trendy church conversion though, is it?’ Mitchell gestured at the drab grey housing that made up most of the street. They weren’t all that far from Trinity, with its large mansion houses and posh boutique shops, but that was the way of it with Edinburgh. A few hundred yards could be the difference between old- moneyed affluence and grinding poverty. ‘Place could use a youth centre or some kind of community hub. Guess there’s never enough money to go around.’

‘Aye, well. Let’s go see what all the fuss is about.’ Janie scanned the cars already parked, noting the battered forensics van alongside a mud- spattered old Land Rover she recognised. The pathologist was already here, then. And probably Janie’s flatmate too.

Half of the street had already been fenced off, a Portakabin and some heavy demolition machinery squeezed into too small a space alongside what must have been the kirk’s rear entrance. Had there been a manse here once? If so, Janie could see no sign of it any more among the ranks of council semis.

‘Detective Sergeant Harrison?’ The uniform officer who’d let them in approached with a weary tread, no doubt at the end of his shift and wondering when his relief would arrive.

‘That’s me.’ Janie almost pulled out her warrant card, but instead nodded towards her colleague. ‘DC Mitchell.’

‘Aye, Cass’n me go back a- ways.’ The young officer grinned for a moment, then stopped himself. ‘You’ll be wanting to see the body then.’

Janie looked up at the kirk, its roofline jagged where rafters had given way and slates had fallen through. ‘It safe in there?’

‘All shored up proper, like. Least that’s what the building site manager tells us.’

‘Where’s the CSM? We’d better sign in and grab some overalls before we do anything else.’

The constable directed them to the Portakabin, his step lighter as he moved away from the building and out into the street. It didn’t fill Janie with much confidence, and neither did the addition of hard hats to their white paper overalls. Forensics had already laid out a clear path to the body though, which made her hope they’d at least checked out enough of the area.

‘You want me to wait outside?’ Mitchell asked as they approached the open door. ‘Might be a bit crowded in there.’

Janie peered into the gloom, making out a fairly intact space. If there had been pews, they were long gone, and the wooden floorboards looked suspiciously rotten in places.

‘Aye, OK. Go speak to the builders or whatever. Find out who found the body and how. Pathologist’s already here so the duty doctor must have been and gone. We’ll need to know who had access, when it was last checked over before today, what their schedule is, and who actually owns the place.’ Janie stopped talking as she could see from Mitchell’s face the detective constable already knew all this. Unlike Janie, she hadn’t put her hard hat on, and was twirling it nervously between her hands. Not a fan of enclosed spaces, Janie remembered.

‘Meet you back at the car when we’re done,’ Mitchell said, then flicked her gaze upwards to take in the kirk and its perilous roof. ‘Be careful in there, aye?’

‘Always.’ Janie turned away, took a deep breath, and stepped inside.

Across the threshold it was as if she had entered another world. The dull roar of the Ferry Road and the lower rumble of the city were both muted to almost nothing, despite the gaping hole in the roof. Janie stopped for a moment, taking in the whole scene before she had to focus on the particular. As she’d seen from outside, the interior had been stripped bare already. No pews lined up for the faithful to rest their arses upon, no pulpit or lectern for the priest to admonish them from. Even the few memorials that must have adorned the walls had been ripped away, the gaps in the plaster too regular to be collapsed from mould.

Most of the roof looked to be in reasonable condition, with only the altar end rotted and fallen in, and that only on one side. The light flooding through the gap had a grey quality, like used bathwater, illuminating a tumble of broken rafters and cracked slates piled up against the end wall. That was where the support scaffolding had been erected on the outside, and Janie could see the cracks and bowing where the whole altar end threatened to fall down. More light filtered in from the corner, a tumble of collapsed masonry and plaster reaching to a point in front of the altar where a small group of people clustered around something.

She approached the scene with care, sticking to the marked path, both because she didn’t want to be shouted at by any of the forensics technicians and because the floor looked like it might collapse at any moment. There might not be anything underneath but hard- packed dirt, of course, but Janie didn’t want to chance her luck with there being an extensive and deep crypt of some form. As she neared the group, she began to make out the body, thinking at first that it seemed rather short. At the same time as she realised why it was short, one of the forensic technicians noticed her. Manda Parsons gave her a wicked grin.

‘Ah, Janie. You’re here. Glad they sent you and not Sandy. She’s awfy squeamish when it comes to this sort of thing.’

Janie had last seen Manda only a few hours earlier as they both ate a swift breakfast in the kitchen of the flat they shared across the city, in Bruntsfield. She’d not expected to see her again until late evening when she’d been hoping they might share a bottle of wine and a pizza while desperately trying not to talk shop. But wasn’t that supposed to be the joy of the job? That you never knew what each new day would throw at you?

Squeamish, though. It was true that Detective Sergeant Sandy Gregg didn’t have the strongest of stomachs. She was the best when it came to organising an investigation, not so good when it got dirty. Or bloody. Janie inched her way into the circle of people, looked down and understood what her flatmate meant.

It was a man’s body. She could tell that much from the clothes, the overall build, the heavy scuffed leather boots and most of all the hands. They lay at his sides, clenched into loose fists that showed off the badly- done tattoos across his fingers. His stomach strained against his jacket, and he’d probably complain that his trousers had shrunk in the wash if he weren’t dead. And if he had a mouth to speak with.

The best she could tell, he had been lying on the floor in front of the altar when the wall had fallen in from outside. The rubble had engulfed his head and shoulders, crushing them entirely if the pooled blood and flecks of brain matter were any indication. Not much blood though, Janie saw. Chances were he’d been dead beforehand.

‘Did nobody check the place was empty before they started?’ She looked from person to person, but aside from Manda there was only another forensic technician, the pathologist and his assistant. None of them were likely to know.

‘Sorry. Stupid question.’ Janie turned her attention to the only man in the group, apart from the deceased. ‘What can you tell me, Tom?’

The pathologist crouched down beside the body and shone a hand torch over the more gruesome bits. Tom MacPhail had been taking on a more leading role of late, as Angus Cadwallader eased himself into a long- overdue retirement. Janie missed the old man, but Tom was a good second choice. He knew his job and didn’t let himself get too annoyed at her sometimes inane questions.

‘Not a lot here, I’m afraid. You can see as well as I can that his head’s been stoved in, but the lack of blood suggests he was dead before that happened. Core temperature’s close enough to ambient that he must have died late last night or very early this morning. Long before the workmen started at least.’

‘Did he die here?’

MacPhail raised a greying eyebrow. ‘Strange you should ask that first. Most people want to know what the victim died of. Except Tony, of course. He always wants a time of death even though he knows we can’t give anything accurate. I think it’s his little joke, you know?’

Janie did. She also noted the pathologist still referred to retired Detective Inspector McLean in the present tense, as if not yet accepting that the man would never grace a crime scene again. She hoped that too, but wasn’t going to hold her breath waiting. It had been months since McLean had handed in his resignation, after all.

‘But it’s a good question all the same.’ MacPhail eased himself upright with a minimum of groaning and not a click from either of his knees to be heard. ‘If he hadn’t been so badly damaged, I’d have been able to say with certainty one way or the other. As it is, the area’s too badly contaminated to be sure. We’ll have to get him out of here and back to the mortuary before I can give you any more detail. On that or what killed him.’

Janie stared down at the corpse, her thoughts branching out in swift possibilities until, with a conscious effort, she reeled them all back in again. ‘Do we have any idea who he is?’

‘That I can help you with.’ Manda Parsons crouched down beside the body and came back up clutching a clear plastic evidence bag. Unlike the pathologist, her knees made a horrible popping noise that echoed in the empty church, and she gave a little grimace of pain.

‘This was in his jacket pocket.’ She held out the bag to reveal a wallet inside. Old leather, shiny in places, scuffed in others. ‘Might not be his, of course. Might be planted to throw you off the scent. But if it is his, then he’s Kenneth Morgan. Lives up Granton way. Not far. And by the look of his boots, he’s not afraid of walking.’

The name meant nothing to Janie, but it was somewhere to start. She opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by an ominous creaking groan. Not from her flatmate this time. By the way all heads turned towards the back wall, it was clear she’d not imagined it either.

‘Bodybag. I think we need to get him moved now.’ MacPhail spoke to Manda Parsons, but it was the other forensic technician who knelt down and rolled out the black plastic. Janie stepped back to give everyone room to work, letting those that knew what they were doing get on with their jobs as swiftly as they could. As the bag was zipped up, another groan issued from the back wall, followed by a crack like thunder as something important gave way.

James Oswald is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling Inspector McLean series of detective mysteries. The first two of these, Natural Causes and The Book of Souls were both short-listed for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award. Set in an Edinburgh not so different to the one we all know, Detective Inspector Tony McLean is the unlucky policeman who can see beneath the surface of ordinary criminal life to the dark, menacing evil that lurks beneath.

James has also introduced the world to Detective Constable Constance ‘Con’ Fairchild, whose first outing was in the acclaimed No Time To Cry.

As J D Oswald, James has written a classic fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro. Inspired by the language and folklore of Wales, it follows the adventures of a young dragon, Sir Benfro, in a land where his kind have been hunted near to extinction by men. The whole series is now available in print, ebook and audio formats.

James has pursued a varied career – from Wine Merchant to International Carriage Driving Course Builder via Call Centre Operative and professional Sheep Shit Sampler (true). He moved out of the caravan when Storm Gertrude blew the Dutch barn down on top of it, and now lives in a proper house with two dogs, two cats and a long-suffering partner. He farms Highland cows by day, writes disturbing fiction by night.

Follow the author: Website | Twitter/X | Goodreads | Amazon UK


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