Still Life (DCI Karen Pirie #6), by Val McDermid

Nine stars

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

Happy to return to Scotland for another DCI Karen Pirie procedural, I look to Val McDermid, whose storytelling is second to none. In a jam-packed story with more twists that even I could have predicted, McDermid spins a tale that will keep readers guessing throughout. When a body is fished out of the water, a call to the local police brings DS Daisy Mortimer to the scene. After checking for identification, DS Mortimer learns that the victim appears to be a French citizen and begins her inquiries. The plot thickens when she learns that the man was not Paul Allard, as previously thought, but James Auld. Things take an even more interesting turn when Auld is known to be the prime suspect in his brother’s death, a high-ranking bureaucrat at the Scottish Office in London. All this sounds like a case for the Historic Cases Unit and DCI Karen Pirie. As she tries to sort out her complicated personal life, DCI Pirie is called to consult on another case, one where skeletal remains were found in the back of a camper van of a woman who died in an accident a few years before. While she seeks to put all the pieces together there, DCI Pirie is handed the Allard/Auld case and agrees to work alongside DS Mortimer. The case sees them head to Paris to get a little background on the victim, where they learn that Auld had been living off the radar after tiring of all the accusations back home. After discovering some photographs that do not make sense, Pirie and Mortimer return to Scotland and work the case from that angle, touching base with the victim’s former sister-in-law. While this is taking place, the bones in the other investigation are seemingly identified and the case takes a turn towards a commune where the victim and her girlfriend spent some time, though they are said to have left while they were both alive and well. Rumours swirl around that there could have been a case of presumed identity, but the facts are still too circumstantial at this point. While Pirie and Mortimer work the Auld case, DC Jason Murray handles the skeleton case and chases down a lead on his own. With both cases gaining momentum, a twist or two will leave all those involved wondering what they might have missed and how two killers could get away with murder. A formidable addition to the series that kept me wanting more with each chapter. Recommended to those who are fans of Val McDermid and this series, as well as those who love a good police procedural.

When it comes to reading novels by Val McDermid, the reader must make a pledge to stick it out until the end. This is not only because her books are long, but there is so much going on that it is not until the last chapter that all finally comes together. DCI Karen Pirie returns for her sixth case and she has not lost any of her lustre since the series started. Still trying to find the balance between work and personal life, Pirie struggles to make the pieces come together. Her personal life is strained throughout the book, which is revealed in moments when the action is less intense. However, she doesn’t let this deter her from cracking on and getting to the heart of the cases before her. Pirie may be work focussed, but she is not one to miss the small things, which help solve crimes and keep the Historic Cases Unit on the map. The addition of DS Daisy Mortimer was key to this novel’s success. A great cop in her own right, Mortimer is learning from the best when she is paired with Pirie. The reader sees a great deal of her work ethic in the novel, with glimpses of personal backstory. One can only wonder if Mortimer will make her way over to Historic Cases, as she seems keen to be where the ‘real action’ tends to find itself. The handful of other characters add a wonderful depth to the story and kept me reading, if only to see how some of them would develop throughout the tale. McDermid mixes the Scottish flavouring of this novel with a few other locales and creates the perfect mix, with characters to match. The story itself was captivating and held my attention throughout. McDermid is able to write in such a way that both cases receive much attention and neither pushes the other out of the way. With a number of key twists, the story moves in directions one might not have first presumed, which only adds to the mystery and wonderment as the reader delves deeper. A sprinkling of politics, the art world, and even some international travel all keep the story full of action until the final reveal. I can only hope there is more DCI Pirie to come, as this was surely one of the best police procedurals I have read in a long while.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for a stellar piece of writing. I am happy to see you still have it and keep your fans buzzing with excitement.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Broken Ground (Inspector Karen Pirie #5), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

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

I am always pleased to find a new Val McDermid novel ready to be devoured, particularly because she has a few strong series that I have come to enjoy. After a devastating personal loss, Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie is back. Shuffled off within Police Scotland to head-up the new Historic Cases Unit (HCU), Pirie begins work on a rape/murder from three decades ago. With only the description of the assailant’s vehicle, Pirie begins combing through records well before thorough databases were created. Meanwhile, two treasure hunters are combing rural Scotland with a hand-drawn map, seeking the ultimate prize, two motorcycles from around the end of the Second World War. After locating the spot and digging through much peat, they locate not only the crates, but a body that’s suffered numerous gunshots wounds. What adds to the intrigue is that a number of artifacts on and around the victim date it back no earlier than 1995. DCI Pirie is called to the scene and thus begins her meatier case, trying to locate what might have happened. With the peat preserving the victim’s body, an identification is possible, as is some other history about the man left in the bog. With Pirie working this case, she must also juggle all that is going on with her other investigation, turning up many forgetful witnesses and belligerent individuals. However, Pirie is not one to give up easily and she soon creates a document trail that may solve both cases in short order, if only she can get a few key pieces of evidence to line up properly. That will require assistance from higher up the chain of command, always a daunting task. McDermid provides the reader with some excellent insight in this well-established series. Recommended for those who enjoy DCI Karen Pirie in action, as well as readers with a keen interest in cold cases.

It has been a while since I read Val McDermid, but doing so always proves to be a worthy task. She’s able to get to the heart of the matter in a timely fashion, while also building up her setting and characters effectively, thus keeping the reader fully committed. DCI Pirie proves to be a great character who has evolved since the beginning of the series. Still handling the death of her husband, Pirie is only now coming out of the fog. She’s able to keep her mind sharp and wits about her as she tackles some less than simplistic police work within the HCU. Added to that, there is the strain of a less than compassionate superior and Pirie must forge ahead just to stay above the fray. Many of the other characters found within the novel develop effectively over this time and show that their presence is not only essential, but entertaining for the reader. Juggling a few cases can be tough for both the police and the reader, trying to keep facts and witnesses straight, though McDermid writes in such a way that it is reasonable and usually straightforward. The reader is able to digest the larger story with ease, helped sometimes by short chapters that keep the narrative’s momentum. Those familiar with McDermid’s work will know she does well to keep the sarcasm high between intense moments, balancing the reading experience. McDermid’s writing holds out until the final sentence and readers will surely be pining for more in the near future.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for another winner. I love your writing and ideas, hoping you have a few more pieces to dazzle your fans in the coming months.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: