Sunday 7 November 2021

Guest Review: A Darker Domain By Val McDermid

Twenty-five years ago, a woman and her baby son were kidnapped and held to ransom. Catriona Grant ended up dead and little Adam's fate has remained a mystery ever since.

When a new clue is discovered in a deserted Tuscan villa – along with grisly evidence of a recent murder – cold case expert DI Karen Pirie is assigned to follow the trail.

She's already working a case from the same year. During the Miners' Strike of 1984, pit worker Mick Prentice vanished. Where did he really go? And is there a link to the Grant mystery?

The truth is stranger – and far darker – than fiction.

Review: This is the second book in the Karen Pirie crime thriller series, but it can be read as a standalone. Detective Inspector Pirie is head of Fife Constabulary’s cold case revue team (the story is set prior to the merger of Scotland’s eight regional forces to form Police Scotland). Much of the book is set in Fife, Scotland, but some of the action occurs in Tuscany in Italy.

The story begins in 2007, when a woman walks into Karen Pirie’s office to report that her father, a coal miner, went missing twenty-two and a half years earlier in 1984. This was during the year-long national miners’ strike of 1984-1985, and it was believed he had joined a small group of miners who had gone south to work as “scabs” in the Nottinghamshire coalfield. She is keen to contact her father since she now has a child of her own who needs a bone marrow transplant and has exhausted all other close family members as potential donors. Given the elapse of such a long period of time, Karen decides to take on this case unofficially. Shortly afterwards, her superior allocates her another case. At around the same time that the miner went missing, Catriona Grant, the daughter of a rich businessman, and her baby son were kidnapped. A ransom was arranged, but the handover was botched and in the ensuing confusion, Catriona was fatally shot. The baby was never found but, years later, an investigative journalist stumbled across a possible clue to the kidnapping in a deserted villa in Tuscany. She brought this to Catriona’s father’s attention, who then contacted the police with a request that they try to track down the missing boy.

The story follows Karen and her team as they investigate these two cases. The narrative jumps between different locations, between the two time periods and between the two different strands. At first, it took me a while to get used to this, but once I had settled into the story, I found that this style helped things move along at a fast pace, and it helped that when a character was explaining something in 2007, the narrative jumped back to the 1980s to describe the events as they happened. Val McDermid is very good at describing locations such that I was able to picture myself in some of the Fife towns and villages in which the book is set. She is also not shy about giving voice to her political views, and it was interesting to hear about the Scottish perspective of the miners’ strike and the resulting conflicts and hardship within the mining communities. I also enjoyed the forensic aspects of the book, which are key to the plot and which I thought were well researched. I listened to the audiobook version and found one or two strange pronunciations of place and people’s names. If you have a keen ear for accents, you may wish that the narrator, a Scottish actress, had more of a Fife accent to give greater authenticity to the story.

Overall, I found this to be a thrilling and exciting book, with many twists and turns to keep the listener, or reader, guessing. I managed to spot some, but not all of the clues that were drip fed as the story developed and I found DI Pirie to be a very interesting character.

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