I’d never read a Val McDermid book before. Not for any particular reason, other than I’d just never picked one up and started reading it, although she had been recommended to me many times. Mostly, by my mum (who is a big fan of hers and even tracks her TV appearances down to make sure she watches her in conversation) – I’m very lucky that both my parents love reading! This book was loaned to me by my mum, as she had read it previously and thought it would be a good starting point for me to catch Val McDermid fever. It’s the first in the Karen Pirie series, and whilst she isn’t the main police character in The Distant Echo, and actually doesn’t appear until near the end, the small insight into her character bodes well for the future of the series.
So, one evening I read the blurb again, then opened the cover to the first page and couldn’t stop. Okay, so I really mean it, I could not stop reading this book as I just had to find what happened. I would characterise Val McDermid as a “traditional” author, a classic writer if you were, maybe purely based on her stature in the literary world. Don’t get me wrong, this book had twists and kept me on my toes, it was by no means predicatable or obvious. I did guess who had committed the original crime about 2/3rd of the way through but enjoyed being given the run around and the “is it or isn’t it them” right to the last scenes.
The cold case aspect always interests me, as I think it gives a sense of reality to fiction novels. These crimes we love to read about, they happen in the real world and sometimes there isn’t a perfect ending, sometimes they don’t get figured out just in time, sometimes they are never solved and those families and friends live with it every day. The Duff family’s response to the original murder really hits you, but you do get a sense from Val’s writing that there is a secret they are hiding and the twist is really great. It’s a masterclass into manipulation and emotional blackmail, but you are torn between believing and investing in it and questioning what else is really going on.
The impact the crime had on the lives of all of the characters comes through so impeccably and you find yourself empathising with even the ones you suspect might have done it. I found myself flitting back and forth between two characters as suspects, I think by Author’s design, but this only added to my inability to stop reading. I immediately liked the Tom Mackie character and desperately didn’t want him to be a victim. I was certain he was innocent, along with the other 3 boys and the funeral scenes in particular cemented your thoughts that they were being wrongly targeted. I drew this mythical alliance with the boys willing them to figure it out and reach the end unscathed.
This book made me question my friendships and how honest people are when the stakes are high. Naturally, the flight or fight instinct is coupled with survival of the fittest and thinking about who would run, stay or throw you under the proverbial bus in your own life is an interesting concept. All in all, would recommend this book immensely and I cannot wait to read A Darker Domain. Yes, I’ve already bought the next book in the Karen Pirie series… Val McDermid fever is seriously taking it’s hold on me. – GJ