Saturday 21 January 2023

Guest Review: Broken Ground By Val McDermid

'Somebody has been here before us. And he's still here . . .'

When a body is discovered in the remote depths of the Highlands, DCI Karen Pirie finds herself in the right place at the right time. Unearthed with someone's long-buried inheritance, the victim seems to belong to the distant past - until new evidence suggests otherwise, and Karen is called in to unravel a case where nothing is as it seems.

It's not long before an overheard conversation draws Karen into the heart of a different case, however - a shocking crime she thought she'd already prevented. As she inches closer to the twisted truths at the centre of these murders, it becomes clear that she's dealing with a version of justice terrifyingly different to her own . . .

Review: This is the fifth book in the Karen Pirie crime thriller series. It can be read as a standalone, but it does follow on from events in the previous books, so I would recommend reading the series in order. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Karen Pirie is head of Police Scotland’s Historic Cases Unit based in Edinburgh. In this book, she and her assistant, Detective Constable (DC) Jason Murray, are joined by a newcomer to the unit, Detective Sergeant (DS) Gerry McCartney.

There are three strands to the book. At the outset, in 2018, Karen and her team are trying to track down the owner of a Rover car that they believe was involved in a series of unsolved rapes. Also at this time, whilst having a break in a cafĂ©, Karen overhears a conversation between two women that she fears could lead to domestic violence. However, the main strand of the book relates to the recovery of a pair of motorcycles that were “liberated” towards the end of the Second World War by two soldiers who were involved in training agents for clandestine operations behind enemy lines at a training centre in the Scottish Highlands. Since the motorcycles were surplus to the Army’s requirements, the soldiers were ordered to destroy them but, instead, decided to bury them in a peat bog and come back to recover them after the end of the War. Circumstances prevented them from returning to the burial site and, 74 years later, the granddaughter of one of the men located the site in Wester Ross and started to dig up the bikes. To her surprise and shock, buried alongside the bikes was a well-preserved male body with gunshot wounds and wearing clothing that clearly did not date from 1944, but more probably from the 1990s. The book follows Karen and her team’s efforts to solve the murder of the body in the peat bog, as well as their attempts to track down the driver of the Rover linked to the historic sexual assaults.

As in Val McDermid’s previous books, I found this to be fast-paced. It is set mainly in Edinburgh and the North West of Scotland. The locations are very well described, such that the reader or listener (I listened to the audiobook) can picture themselves in the middle of the action. The famous pies from the shop in Lochinver are even described, and having eaten several of them, I can recommend these also. I liked the way the chapters of the book jumped between the different time periods and places, which helped to move the story along at a good pace. There is more detail about DCI Pirie’s personal life and we also discover the office politics of Police Scotland. There is a lot of strong language in the book, so caution should be exercised. I did find that the book ended quite suddenly, and would have liked to have found out more about how the loose ends were tidied up. Overall, however, I found this to be another exciting addition to the Karen Pirie series and would recommend it to all crime fiction lovers.

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