Out of Bounds (Inspector Karen Pirie #4), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Val McDermid, Grove Atlantic, and Atlantic Monthly Press for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In a continued meteoric rise, McDermid places DCI Karen Pirie in another first-rate novel that sees her working on the complicated Historic Cases Unit. A horrific vehicular accident leaves three young men dead and eighteen year-old Ross Garvie clinging to life. A routine sample for blood alcohol levels includes DNA analysis and is sent to Police Scotland’s database for comparison with any outstanding cases. A flag pops up on a rape-murder twenty years before, where Tina McDonald was left amongst the rubbish bins at a local bar. There is a familial match between Garvie and the rapist, which is the only clue Pirie has to solve the case. As Garvie was not yet born at the time of the crime, all eyes shift to his father, which is further complicated because Garvie was adopted at birth. Wresting with the bureaucratic red tape and awaiting a sheriff’s approval to access the original birth certificate, Pirie must bide her time, a trait she does not come by naturally. This sends her to poke around a recent case of Gabriel Abbott, who apparently committed suicide. What piques Pirie’s interest is that Carolyn Abbott, mother of the deceased, died when the Cessna on which she flew disintegrated when a bomb exploded onboard in 1994. Never formally solved but attributed to an IRA act of terror, Pirie begins poking around on her own, keeping all her work hidden from superiors and the DI handling Gabriel’s case. As with most cold cases, this one is far from simple, though the politics involved extend well-past Bloody Sunday retribution. The more Pirie learns, the less she feels Gabriel Abbott died under his own hand, though the remains as murky as pea soup. While work does seem to keep her busy, Pirie is still struggling with the recent death of Phil Parhatka, whose place in her heart remains a gaping hole and one that she is only just able to address. A conversation with a few new locals in town puts it all in perspective for her, though does not diminish the power of grief. Juggling both case, Pirie moves forward with the birth certificate for Ross Garvie, which takes her on more wild chases and ruffles the feathers of all who will listen. The death of Carolyn Abbott and mutterings by Gabriel about some ‘conspiracy’ must surely tie the cases together, though Pirie cannot work it out with ease. Can the Historic Cases Unit solve three murders or will the killers all disappear in the wind, never to be brought to justice? McDermid spins another fabulous tale that pits Karen Pirie into her most challenging cases yet.

Only recently discovering the DCI Pirie collection, I have been happy to devour all four books on offer to date. They are not only well composed, but require the reader to divide their attention between the present and numerous parts of the past, as the case is pieced together. Karen Pirie’s character can be rough around the edges, pushing her way up the ranks within Police Scotland, while also showing a deeply personal side as she mourns the loss of her partner and lover. McDermid effectively shows this balance, as well as adding a number of characters who are able to coax out all this sentiments from the protagonist. With significant amounts of humour and Scottish colloquialisms, McDermid leaves the reader to feel as though they are right in the mix. The narrative pushes the story along, while also taking the necessary rest stops to develop aspects of the case that require more synthesising. All this done without losing any of the story’s momentum or the thrill of the hunt as the killers remain on the loose, awaiting Pirie’s sleuthing to find them. McDermid appears ready to tackle anything put before her and I am pleased to see that she continues to be highly successful in this venture.

Kudos, Madam McDermid for another wonderful novel. I hope you will keep writing Pirie novels. I am curious, since you have a number of successful series, if you will entertain a crossover at some point. Brilliant if you would consider it for us fans!