Saturday 25 May 2024

Guest Review: Past Lying By Val McDermid

Edinburgh, haunted by the ghosts of its many writers, is also the cold case beat of DCI Karen Pirie. So she shouldn't be surprised when an author's manuscript appears to be a blueprint for an actual crime.

Karen can't ignore the plot's chilling similarities to the unsolved case of an Edinburgh University student who vanished from her own doorstep. The manuscript seems to be the key to unlocking what happened to Lara Hardie, but there's a problem: the author died before he finished it.

As Karen digs deeper, she uncovers a spiralling game of betrayal and revenge, where lies are indistinguishable from the truth and with more than one unexpected twist . . .

Review: This is the seventh, and latest, book in the Karen Pirie crime thriller series. It follows on chronologically from 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 (HCU) based in Edinburgh. The story is set mainly in April 2020, with Scotland, and the rest of the United Kingdom, in lockdown as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. During this time, people had to stay indoors, mixing only with people in their own “bubble”, and only being allowed outside for one hour’s exercise per day. Karen’s assistant, Detective Constable (DC) Jason Murray, is staying in his flat with his fiancĂ©e. Karen is joined in a separate “bubble” by a newcomer to the HCU, Detective Sergeant (DS) Daisy Mortimer.

With the country in lockdown there is little work for the Unit to do except going through some old files, until Jason receives a telephone call from a librarian on furlough from the National Library of Scotland. She explains that, prior to lockdown, she had been cataloguing the papers of a crime writer who had passed away suddenly. Amongst the papers was an unfinished manuscript detailing the abduction, murder and concealment of the body of a young woman by a writer in such a way that the finger of suspicion points at a fellow writer. The librarian believes that there are some uncanny similarities to the unsolved disappearance of an Edinburgh University student the previous year, especially due to the unusual medical condition suffered by the victim in the manuscript and the missing student. On receiving the report of this conversation, Karen Pirie decides that this should be investigated by the HCU. The book then follows the investigation as it grapples with the restrictions of lockdown and the ever pervading menace of Covid to try and bring answers to the missing student’s family.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the actress Lauren Lyle who played Karen Pirie in the television adaptation of the first book in the series. I found it to be as exciting as previous books in the series, although of necessity slower paced as Karen and her team journeyed through the eerily quiet streets of Edinburgh. There were plenty of twists in the plot, and the author wove skilfully the reality of the Covid pandemic and its effects on people’s lives into the story. As another absorbing entry into the Karen Pirie crime series, I would recommend this book.

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