Saturday 8 January 2022

Guest Review: The Distant Echo By Val McDermid

The first novel in the bestselling Karen Pirie series

The award-winning Number One bestseller and Queen of crime fiction Val McDermid carves out a stunning psychological thriller. The past is behind them, but what’s still to come will tear them apart…

Some things just won’t let go.
The past, for instance.
That night in the cemetery.
The girl’s body in the snow.

On a freezing Fife morning four drunken students stumble upon the body of a woman in the snow. Rosie has been raped, stabbed and left for dead in an ancient Pictish cemetery. And the only suspects are the four young men now stained with her blood.

Twenty-five years later the police mount a ‘cold case’ review of Rosie’s unsolved murder and the four are still suspects. But when two of them die in suspicious circumstances, it seems that someone is pursuing their own brand of justice. For the remaining two there is only one way to avoid becoming the next victim – find out who really killed Rosie all those years ago…

Review: This is the first book in the Karen Pirie crime thriller series, although she doesn’t appear in the story until well into the book. Detective Constable (DC) Karen Pirie works in Fife Constabulary’s cold case revue team based in Glenrothes (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 the town of St Andrews, home to Scotland’s oldest university, but some of the action occurs in the USA.

The story begins in December 1978 when four St Andrews University students, on their way back to their hall of residence in the small hours of the morning after a night on the town, stumble across a young woman lying in the snow dying from a stab wound. Unable to save the woman, the four young men find that the finger of suspicion points at them as the suspects in her murder. With very little physical evidence to go on, no arrests are made and the police enquiry is eventually wound down. However, 25 years later, Fife Constabulary announces that a cold case review will take place, and it is allocated to Karen Pirie. The hope is that advances in forensic science during the intervening period will allow tests with more discriminatory power to be carried out on old material from the case.

The narrative concentrates mainly on the four students and their later careers. At the time, they felt that they were treated as suspects, rather than witnesses, and this affected their lives. The story moves at a fast pace and there are many twists to the plot. I particularly enjoyed the forensic aspects of the book, which I thought were well researched. Val McDermid is adept at describing locations, and being familiar with several of them, I was able to place myself in the middle of the action. I listened to the audiobook version and thought that the narrator did a good job voicing the different characters and their accents.

I found this to be an exciting crime thriller with many twists and turns to keep the listener, or reader, guessing. Although Karen Pirie does not feature prominently in this book and her character is not developed strongly, it lays the foundation for further books in the series. I should add a care warning that there is a lot of strong language and descriptions of violence in the book. In addition, although the books in this series can be read as stand-alones, I would strongly recommend that you read this one before the second one in the series “A Darker Domain”, since the second book gives away the outcome of the first.

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