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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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Insidious Intent (Tony Hill and Carol Jordan Thriller #10), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

Returning with another high-intensity novel in the Hill and Jordan series, Val McDermid shows why she has been given so much praise for her mystery writing. When a vehicle is found engulfed in flames along the side of the road, questions mount. It is only when fire crews extinguish the blaze that they discover a charred body, later identified as Kathryn McCormick. Forensic examination discovers that Kathryn was likely strangled before being placed in the vehicle and the fire was used to destroy anything that might help. A call to REMIT (the Regional Major Investigation Team) means that the locals are taking no chances. REMIT is a group that has been pulled together by DCI Carol Jordan, a small and very select group that is sure to leave those peering in from outside highly jealous. However, Jordan is also trying to get her life back together after some less than legal maneuvers kept her out of jail, but also allowed some other offenders to slip through the cracks. When Jordan and the team seek to tease out some information about the killer, they discover all forensics at the scene have been destroyed by water and there are very few leads. However, refusing to lay down and give up, Jordan pushes to use CCTV footage and the like to find this killer. When another body is discovered in a vehicle, the team is thankful that the blaze was left to burn itself out, turning the scene into a forensic jackpot. The more REMIT can find, the better the killer’s profile, which is where Tony Hill finds his expertise useful. Hill is able to extrapolate and soon discovers that there may be a wedding crasher killer, preying on vulnerable women. Away from the action, DS Paula McIntyre has come to see that her ‘adopted’ son, Torin, is beginning to exhibit highly confusing behaviour. Not sure if this is tied to his mother’s recent death, DS McIntyre uses Tony Hill’s expertise to crack things open, only to discover another disturbing set of circumstances. With a killer on the loose and scores of weddings all over the place, REMIT cannot be sure of where to turn next, or what might be fuelling these murders. DCI Jordan had best regain her focus, or step aside, as all eyes are watching, some ready to pounce on REMIT failure. A wonderfully plotted piece that seeks to stir up emotion in the reader throughout the experience. McDermid and series fans will bask in the strength of this piece, which is sure to garner new fans, though I recommend they start at the beginning of this impactful collection.

McDermid never falters when she sits down and dedicates herself to a series. The Hill-Jordan collection is full of great aspects of crime, character growth, and personal struggles, which leaves the reader fully committed, but always wanting a little more. Carol Jordan receives a great deal of the focus in this novel, tackling some of her guilt related to having her drunk driving charge swept under the rug, but also having to come to terms with the pressure of REMIT and that many want it to die a painful death. McDermid allows this thread to float around through the narrative, including an angle of journalistic integrity when someone gets ahold of the previously buried information. While she and Hill remain committed to not committing, Tony is able to remain on the periphery and do what he does best, climb into the minds of killers and those who need a psychological analysis. The banter between these two and the other strong, secondary characters permits McDermid to forge ahead with a strong crime thriller. The story itself has some interesting aspects, as the reader is given full view of the killer and their attempts to lure vulnerable women at weddings. Building up their confidence and preparing the foundation for a wonderful relationship before killing them, symbolic of a larger issue at hand. McDermid weaves the story around the killer and REMIT, creating a wonderful cat and mouse game, but not turning it into anything too laborious. Peppering the narrative with that secondary criminal situation, involving Torin, keeps the reader on their toes and sharp-minded throughout. The delivery is strong and, as I have always come to find with McDermid, leaves little time to rest. There is always something going on and the reader cannot tune out for a chapter or three, for fear of missing essential information. Without getting specific, the ending leaves fans begging for another instalment, as loose threads dangle. This series has it all, without dragging things out for 500+ pages, just to get to the end.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for all your hard work. I find that a few of your series with which I have familiarised myself remain strong and full of forensic spark. Keep it up and your fan base will grow exponentially.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons