The Distant Echo (Inspector Karen Pirie #1), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

As she begins the Karen Pirie series, McDermid offers readers a wonderful introduction to another fast-paced novel and lays the groundwork for what could be an exciting few stories. Scotland, 1978: After a night of drinking, drugging, and partying, Alex Gilbey and his three closest mates stumble upon Rosie Duff, who’s been raped and stabbed, bleeding out in the middle of a blizzard. By the time the authorities are alerted and brought to the scene, Duff has died and there is little doubt that the boys must have some involvement. All four adamantly deny anything to do with the murder, though they must admit knowing Duff as the barmaid from their local watering hole. While never able to nail them down to anything concrete, everyone whispers that these four got away with the perfect crime. After twenty-five years, DC Karen Pirie is assigned the cold case review of the Duff murder, which she begins in earnest. A man by the name of Graham Macfadyen comes out of the woodwork to admit that he is a relative of Rosie Duff and wants her killers brought to justice. He is certain that Gilbey and his friends are responsible, hoping that new DNA technology can bring about their eventual arrest and conviction. While the investigation brings back old and awkward memories for Gilbey, he is further unsettled when two of his friends die under mysterious circumstances and a sinister reminder of the Duff case appears at their memorial services. Gilbey cannot rest until the killer is finally put behind bars and the stalking of his friends is put to rest. Could Macfadyen be using this investigation to get the justice that Duff deserved or does he have darker desires, murdering those who will never be forced to face justice? McDermid offers up some interesting twists in this opening novel, which will entertain and intrigue the curious reader.

Having read a number of McDermid’s past novels, I rushed to this one in order to see what she might present. The use of the extended flashback not only lays the groundwork for a sensational novel, but allows the reader to connect with the characters on a much deeper level. While all could have been rammed into a preface, McDermid chose to spin the tale out in the first half of the book, giving intricate detail to the struggles that Alex Gilbey and friends faced in the light of the December 1978 murder of young Rosie Duff. Then, to propel the story into 2003-04, with more drama and antics offered the reader a foundation on which to build. Adding Macfadyen to the mix surely offered another interesting aspect to the story, though his connection to Duff is not as controversial, at least in the narrative, as could be expected. While she does appear throughout the investigation, DC Karen Pirie is only peppered throughout the story, perhaps in a way to introduce her to the reader, though she does not take centre-stage, at least not in this novel. It leaves me to wonder if McDermid needed to test the waters before bringing her out in full-force, which has me wanting to rush for the next novel to see what she offers. I will be doing so right away, for this was a great read and highly entertaining throughout. McDermid has a wonderful series on her hands, though I am unsure if it will be entirely ‘cold case’ centred. I suppose I ought to read on to see what she has to offer.

Kudos, Madam McDermid for an exciting opening novel. I look forward to seeing what you have in store for us next. 

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