1979 (Allie Burns #1), 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 publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Whenever I see a piece by Val McDermid, I know it will be a rollercoaster ride through the world of thrills and mystery. This series debut was no exception, as McDermid not only introduces the reader to a gritty investigative journalist, but takes things back to a time before the technological breakthrough made journalism a 24/7 reporting game. Allie Burns is a well-balanced journalist, but has come to realise that working in Scotland in the late 1970s is not as easy as she would have hoped. It’s 1979 and she’s stuck writing about issues that are important to women, rather than getting bloody in the real issues of the day. When Allie meets fellow reporter, Danny Sullivan, they decide to take Glasgow by storm. Their work reveals some real winners, including a tax fraud scheme that is sure to rock the country. However, it is a political piece that could really make a difference, while putting them both in the crosshairs of some troublesome individuals. Allie soon faces a significant setback, but is determined not to let this derail her passion or gritty personality. An intriguing start to a new series for Val McDermid.

Allie Burns had hoped that 1979 would allow her to get off on the right foot, but things were not looking too great. The year started with a massive blizzard and she was tasked with reporting it, as well as sundry other ‘light’ stories that her editor thought she might be able to handle. As an investigative journalist, Allie Burns had hoped to uncover the major stories in and around Glasgow, but she was relegated to the fluff, things that ‘women would want to read about’.

Danny Sullivan had issues of his own in 1979, but it was not a lack of action. Rather, he’d uncovered a major tax fraud scheme taking place, where businessmen could siphon off their money and invest it in an offshore bank on the other side of the world. What’s worse, Danny’s own brother was in the thick of it, making the story all the more delicate. Slow and steady, he told himself, all in the hopes of making the headline and earning a decent byline.

When Allie and Danny began working together, they proved to be unstoppable. Both full of grit and determination, the pair were able to turn up every stone and get to the heart of the matter, impressing editors and readers alike. While they worked on the tax story, news arose about something else in the lead up to the Scottish Referendum on Devolution. Danny made inroads with a group who sought to turn up the heat and bring a little violence to help things along.

Sitting on the story, both Danny and Allie knew they’d need to take action if there was any chance of catching the exclusive. Danny worked from the inside, befriending the group and discovering their ties to the IRA, while Allie used her superior writing skills to pen the story they’d present for publication. It was around this time that Allie learned another secret that Danny had been keeping, one that could really cause him grief. However, this was one story that Allie vowed to keep under her hat.

When the stories broke and the accolades came tumbling in, Allie set about to celebrate with Danny, only to discover that he’d been murdered in his flat. Who could have done such a thing and for what reason? While Allie was well aware that they had both made many enemies, she could not surmise who would want to take such drastic action. Donning her investigative hat, this was one story she’d have to write alone, fuelled by the need for answers and a truth that was hiding in the shadows. McDermid does well with this piece, keeping the reader hooked until the final page turn.

While I have long enjoyed the work of Val McDermid, I am usually arriving well after the series has started and playing catch-up. It was nice to get an early peek at this series and see that it is sure to pack quite a punch for the reader and anyone else who takes the time to enjoy it. McDermid has done well to develop the series and keep the reader on their toes throughout. I have high hopes for this novel and the series that is to come.

Allie Burns plays a strong protagonist throughout, though she dies share the limelight for most of the novel with Danny Sullivan. Both have great backstories and find the time to develop throughout this piece. Their connection is primarily with work, but there are personal moments that show a deeper and more meaningful linkage. Complemented by others who grace the pages of the book, McDermid adds characters who matter and whose placement provides a flavour for the narrative that keeps the story on track.

While there are many angles a thriller can take to deliver on crime and confrontation, McDemid always seems able to find a new approach. Readers can revel in that and find something that they can take away for themselves, finding a degree of excitement. The narrative flowed well throughout, keeping the story moving in a forward direction. Characters kept the piece exciting and intriguing, not least because of their Scottish slang that was peppered throughout. McDermid puts Scotland front and centre throughout, providing a treat for those who are not from the region. I quite enjoyed the grittiness that emerged as the story developed and cannot wait to see how Allie Burns will emerge into the 1980s, scarred but not broken.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for another winner. You always seem to find a way to impress me with your writing.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.


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

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

How the Dead Speak (Tony Hill and Carol Jordan #11), 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.

Always a fan of Val McDermid’s work, I was pleased to be able to read this eleventh novel in the Tony Hill-Carol Jordan series, which packs a punch and keeps the reader on their toes. After the fallout of a previous case, Tony Hill finds himself behind bars for manslaughter. That may seem a hindrance, but Hill is doing all he can to work with his fellow inmates to help make their lives easier, while ensuring protection of his own. On the outside, Carol Hill has retired from active police duty as she pieces things together. When Carol is approached by a local Innocence Project and asked to help consult on a case, her curiosity is piqued. A number of male prostitutes have gone missing over a span of time, but their bodies have never turned up. Presumed murdered, the prosecution turned their eyes on one man as the killer. Convicted by a majority of his jury, he now sits in jail, though professes his innocence. Carol Jordan uses her long history as a cop to explore the case in hopes of finding a trail left to go cold. At the same time, Carol Jordan’s former Regional Major Incident Team (REMIT) has been called to investigate an odd crime of their own. While razing the land of a former convent and girls’ school, a number of children’s bodies are found buried in the garden. All eyes turn to those who run the school, which appears to have been anything but a lovely educational establishment when it was open. The REMIT begins their investigation and seeks to find something on which they can build a case. While the nuns, groundskeepers, and local priest are anything but forthcoming, there is something that does not add up. When a second set of bodies turns up, things take an interesting turn and the investigation gathers momentum. Who left these bodies and what is the gruesome story behind it all? Another winner in the Hill-Jordan series, which will appeal to those who have enjoyed the previous novels, particularly McDermid’s cliffhanger ending. Recommended to those who like a police procedural with a few twists tossed in.

While I know this series has divided fans over the years, I find myself in the group that loves them. There have been actions taken by Val McDermid hat may leave some scratching their heads, but the meatier parts of the story come out and keep the reader curious, if not completely enthralled. The Tony Hill/Carol Jordan storylines are secondary in this piece, though there is some great character development, however minor at times. It is the characters who normally serve a secondary role that come to the forefront here, weaving together an impactful mystery that needs solving. The premise is strong, though the cliché of the Catholic Church left me rolling my eyes just a bit. Still, there is quite the mystery and two cases soon find a common thread, which ties things together nicely. McDermid does well to write her parallel plots effectively and keeps the reader wondering when the other shoe may drop. I cannot say that it was the most stellar writing, but the narrative offered up strong themes and kept me wondering until the very end. With a mix of short and longer chapters, the reader can sometimes be enticed to read a little more, then locked into the investigation for more detailed aspects. I am eager to see where things go with this series, particularly with how things ended, a tantalizing cliffhanger of sorts.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for another wonderful novel in the series. I can only hope you have more ideas brewing, as they always keep me guessing.

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

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

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