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A Place of Execution - Val McDermid

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Author: Val McDermid / Genre: Crime / Thriller

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    9 Reviews
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      11.04.2012 17:53
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      A gripping read

      When a young girl goes missing in a remote Derbyshire village in the 1960s, new police Inspector George Bennett is suddenly faced with heading up his first major case. Refusing to let his own inexperience, the obstructive attitude of the villagers or media pressure get to him, George is determined to find justice for missing Alison Carter.

      I confess, when I first started reading A Place of Execution, I didn't think I was going to enjoy it and found myself struggling to get into it at first. At the start, I found the pace rather pedestrian and the characters cold and unlikeable. Although I found it mildly interesting, I didn't find it gripping.

      At some point (I couldn't pin point the exact moment), this changed and I suddenly realised that I had become hooked. The "pedestrian pacing" was transformed into an account of the careful and meticulous detail of the police investigation; the initially unlikeable character (particularly Bennett and his sidekick Clough) slowly develop and the reader warms to them; the hostility of the inhabitants of Scardale becomes more understandable. Having struggled with the book, I suddenly couldn't wait to read the next bit to see how the plot and characters evolved. The initial plodding tone reaped its own rewards - by the time I reached around page 100, I was totally immersed in the village of Scardale and the lives of these characters.

      It's clear from a fairly early stage that all is not quite what it seems and it's not that tricky to spot the inconsistency that gives a major clue to the plot's resolution. Yet even though I'd worked out where it was heading by about the halfway point McDermid still managed to pull the rug (at least partly) from under my feet in the last part, producing a very satisfying conclusion.

      A Place of Execution is a very cleverly constructed work, presented as a "book within a book". Much of the book simply concentrates on the narrative of the case, but there is also a wraparound story which tells of a journalist's quest to write a book about the case (the implication being that you are reading the fruits of this quest). This gives McDermid a great amount of narrative freedom. Much of it is written through the eyes of George Bennett as a first-hand account of events. However, thanks to the "book within a book" approach, McDermid is free to bring in other viewpoints or events that Bennett could not possibly have been aware of, without having to leap through convoluted narrative hoops to make them convincing.

      It also allows for a far greater element of character development. As well as relating the events from the 1960s, the final part catches up with George Bennett as he reflects on the case long after he has retired. This gives the book both an epic feel and also a slightly tragic air in that we see the main character at his mental and physical peak and then have to observe him in his declining years, a shadow of his former self. This cleverly introduces an extra element of emotion.

      An extra element is also in that the book examines the long-term implications of the events and their deep impact on so many characters. As the story broadens out into the present day, it becomes clear just how deeply and fundamentally this event affected the lives of everyone involved in it, whether they were directly involved or merely incidental players. It shows how a single tragic event can send out shockwaves which are still felt 40 years later.

      McDermid also imbues the book with a strong sense of both time and people. In this age of instant, mass communication, it can be hard to imagine how isolated small rural villages could be in the 1960s. Yet McDermid does an excellent job of recreating the insular nature of such communities, and their resentful attitude to "outside" interference by the police.

      The 60s were a time of massive social change, with a major shift in attitudes and the author captures this brilliantly. Isolated rural communities, such as Scardale were being forced to accept the gradual intrusion of "foreigners" (i.e. those who were not born in their village); the police were no longer quite the trusted figures they had been and the unquestioning attitude of people to authority was slowly changing. Without making any great fuss about it, McDermid recreates this time of immense change, folding it seamlessly into the main plot.

      What doesn't work quite so well is the attempt to link the story with the notorious Moors Murders (which occurred during the same timeframe as the first part of this book). This is done through the inclusion of news reports and the subtle pressure on Bennett to accept that the same person was guilty of both crimes. This aspect of the story always felt rather separate and superficial to me. I can see what McDermid was trying to do, but for me it didn't' quite work.

      It's also true that the book is still too long. Both the start and the ending are rather drawn out. There's a fine line between keeping a reader in suspense and getting them to the point where they are inwardly screaming "Come on! Get on with it!" and A Place of Execution just veers the wrong side of this line towards the end. Although the ending is ultimately satisfying, it is also frustrating that it takes so long to get there.

      Despite its slow start and over-extended ending, I found myself gripped by A Place of Execution. The ambitious and imaginative tale had the ability to make you feel at home in a seemingly alien past, whilst constantly displaying the ability to surprise and wrong-foot you. If you like clever, well-constructed police thrillers which rely on intelligent plotting and atmosphere, then A Place of Execution is for you.

      Basic information
      ------------------------
      A Place of Execution
      Val McDermid
      HarperCollins, 1999
      ISBN: 978-0002326766

      © Copyright SWSt 2012

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        22.05.2010 18:37
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        Good holiday read.

        I thoroughly enjoyed this book as an easy read despite touching on some difficult subject matter. It was different from many other of Val McDermids books in which it lacked some of the graphic violent references which pervade many of her other novels, although despite this I didn't find it left the story any less chilling.

        It focusses on a isolated northern village called Scardale where a 13 year old girl goes missing, presumed dead, in 1963. This occurs at the same time as the victims of the Moors Murderers were also going missing - and focusses on how the disappearance of a young girl at this time in history impinged upon the lives of everyday people, both those from this small rural village, as well as the "outsiders" who become involved through the investigation or through the understandable media interest. I found that the emotions and actions of these characters were plausible without becoming overly involved in the internal mechanisms of any one character. Having said that, ultimately you are lead to have unwavering loyalty towards DCI Bennett above all else.

        This book also touches on the ethics surrounding capital punishment and some of the misgivings of the legal system at the time. Its important to remember however that this book is simply telling a story and although it touches on some of these ethical and legal difficulties, it does not go into these areas in anything other than superficial depth.

        The story unfolds - and there are some twists and turns along the way - although from my perspective, these twists were somewhat predictable. However, I found compelled to carry on reading to check that I was right in my assumptions, and it wasn't a disappointment even when I found out that I had predicted correctly.

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        28.01.2010 15:47
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        Another fab read from Val McDermid

        In the winter of 1963, 13 year old Alison Carter took her dog out for a walk and never returned home. And in a tiny village like Scardale, where the community favour privacy and family and distrust anything outside of their home, a disappearance is taken very seriously.

        Newly promoted Inspector George Bennett takes on the case with much determination, not only to show his colleagues that he can do his job, but also because he has a personal interest in the case. But with no body, no clues and no one willing to help him, George's instincts are the only lead they have to go on.

        Years later, after many sleepless nights dreaming about young Alison, an old and frail George finally decides to tell his story to journalist Catherine Heathcote, who remembers the story well being a young girl herself when Alison disappeared. But when a new lead emerges, George pleads with Catherine to halt the publication of the book, and the case of Alison Carter must be reinvestigated with consequences that could change everything and everyone.

        ~ My opinion ~
        I love Val McDermid's books and I have a shelf almost full of them at home. So when I saw this one in Asda for only £1 I grabbed at it straight away.

        I thought that the entire book was going to be based around Catherine Heathcote and about the new lead that emerges, but the majority of the book is set in 1963 when the disappearance first occurs, and this means that we know the story inside out when it jumps a few decades into the future later on. I would have liked to have read a bit more when it is based in the present time as the first part seemed to be very long and drawn out whereas the latter part seemed to be quite rushed and it was over very quickly.

        Scardale, where Alison lives and where she disappears from, is a tiny farming village in Derbyshire and the way the people live there is very strange to the rest of the county. Everyone in the village is related some way or another and there is talk around the bigger towns that some must have married into their own family as there are only a couple of outsiders who have married into the Scardale community. One of these outsiders is Philip Hawkin, who inherited the manor house from his uncle and who ends up marrying Ruth, the mother of Alison. Everyone, whether they have lived in Scardale their entire lives or whether they have married into the village, seemed to me to be suspicious and not entirely truthful, despite it being a member of their family who had gone missing.

        I felt for George Bennett, the main character in the first section of the book, as he is only a very young man, newly appointed as Inspector as he has a university degree. He has never worked on a big case like this one and so this just intensifies the pressure on him to find out what happened to Alison. A colleague of George's, Tommy Clough, becomes a good friend throughout the case and they make a good cop/bad cop duo, George being the nice and friendly cop, Clough being the big mean cop.

        From the small part that you see of Catherine Heathcote, I got the feeling that she is very confident, quite pushy and out to get what she wants, as you would imagine a journalist would be. However, I didn't really like the fact that was delving into something that was, quite frankly, none of her business, and at times I wasn't sure whether she was interested in the new lead for her story or for the well-being of George and his family, and I didn't really like this trait in a main character as they're supposed to be extremely likeable.

        Apart from the couple of very small negative comments I've mentioned, there really is nothing bad to say about this book. It was another brilliant read from Val McDermid and it met the expectations that I had from having read her previous books. The story was intense, suspenseful, thrilling and of course there's the much needed twist at the end to make it even more interesting and enjoyable.

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        10.01.2009 18:14
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        Well worth the investment

        This is an absorbing story, and a very enjoyable read that keeps you interested throughout. The story unfolds in two separate parts which made this book even more interesting despite the feelings of disappointment when the first part ended like a damp squib. As soon i started reading the second part though, the excitement started again and I was not disappointed.

        The book is set in an isolated Peak District village called Scardale around the time of the Moors Murders. The step-daughter of the local squire goes missing and the local police are called in to investigate. The main character is a fast-track graduate detective, who has made rapid progress to the rank of Detective Inspector. During his investigations the villagers (all of whom are related in some way or another) close ranks against him as he tries to solve the mystery of the missing girl.Throughout the investigation, he faces hostility and silence from the villagers who all appear to know more than they are sharing but yet again appear to be innocents.

        The first part of the book ends and I was left very disappointed as I thought the book had ended.

        The second part of the book moves to the 1990s and the story takes a new and intriguing twist that leaves you wondering and trying to guess what is about come. You cannot put the book down simply because you know the ending is going to provide a surprise.

        A highly recommended read for anyone who loves mystery thrillers.

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          12.10.2008 12:42
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          A stunninh thriller from a true great of the genre

          One thing I really like is a good novel. I like it even better when the novel is adapted successfully for TV, and over the last few weeks, Val McDermid has once again has the adaptation treatment. The Wire In The Blood author is probably better known for her character Dr Tony Hill due to the WITB series on TV, and although only a couple of the episodes have any bearing on the novels, it was after watching the first WITB that I started reading McDermid's books.

          Of her fictional publications, I much prefer the 'stand alone' individual novels she writes. The WITB series is accompanied by a couple of other characters she has, including private investigator Kate Brannigan, but her individual novels are much mroe powerful as they require the character development to reach its peak by the end - there is no subsequent novel to further develop them. McDermid has taken a little trend of flicking between the past and the present in some of her books, a style she put to extremely good use with The Distant Echo in 2003, which is my favourite of her books.

          However, out of her 24 books, none has a more engrossing plot than this one, A Place of Execution. It deals with a rather disturbing subject matter, and constant flicking between the past and the present. In the 1960s, with stories of the Moors Murderers ever present in the press, thirteen year old Alison Carter goes missing from her Derbyshire village. Detective Inspector George Bennett is called in to investigate the disappearance, and becomes obsessed with the case. Bit by bit, evidence becomes available to help them towards a conclusion, and it is not long before they suspect she has been murdered somewhere on the moors.

          Fast forward to the present: investigative journalist Catherine Heathcote is filming DI George Bennett, now firmly retired. She is reexamining the case for the purposes of showing the public exactly what happened, as she spent childhood summers in thde manor house where Alison and her family lived. Suddenly, without reason, Bennett pulls out of the production, just days before its deadline, and no matter how much Catherine tries, she cannot get him to talk to her. As she starts digging, with pressure from her employer to get the story out, a different story emerges, and it appears that the truth about what happened all those years ago never really surfaced.....until now!

          The strong point about the novel and perhaps the key to the story is the amazing characterisation from McDermid. You really get a feel for the main central characters, particularly George Bennett, in both the past and the present. Bennett' right hand man on the force, Sergeant Tommy Clough, is shown as a tough, local policeman, having learnt the hard way, and this is in good contrast to Bennett's University police schooling. Coupled with the camaradery shown by McDermid among the villagers, and the modern portrayal of some of these characters, I was completely immersed in the story right from the start.

          There are some very haunting descriptive passages in the novel, and I found myself having to put the book down from time to time, so involved was I getting. It's not that it was an effort to read, but there was a lot of information involved, and you feel pretty much straight away that all is not as it seems, and that the real truth has somehow been hidden.

          The change between the past and the present comes quite suddenly each time it happens, and this is a testament to the supreme skill of McDermid. She sucked me in and made me so engrossed in the old story of the case and the description og Bennett's search, that when the switch came to the present with Catherine seeking the truth behind George's refusal to cooperate, I was disappointed. However, two pages in, once more I was engrossed, and the same feeling came back with a sudden shift back to the 1960s.

          Although I am not an expert, I felt the difference between the two times was captured marvellously by McDermid. She provides good distinction between police methods and the way of life in each time zone, and never once does it feel like you're being pushed from pillar to post, back and forth too much between the 1960s and the present. The balance is just right.

          McDermid's writing style is quite descriptive, and as such this book is not for the faint hearted. There is a brilliant twist at the end of the book, and I am very keen to not give anything away at all within the book, as there are clues everywhere as to what really happened all those years ago back in the 1960s, on the eve of Alison's disappearance.

          I highly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down, but found that at times I just had to, for my own sanity! McDermid really sucks you in, and at the end of the book I had to take a deep, appreciative breath. She really knows how to write a good thriller, and the characterisation is such that it will stay with you for a while, until you pick up the next of her books and start all over again.

          A Place of Execution retails for £6.99 but is available from most6 retailers for a cheaper price, and features on amazon.co.uk for £3.84.

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            17.09.2005 09:58
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            Great story, entertaining read, not to be missed.

            ~~~INTRODUCTION~~~

            I buy a lot of books from charity shops – after all they’re cheap, accessible, tend to have an impressive range of genres available and at the same time you’re supporting a good cause in a way that offers a benefit to you as well as the organisation concerned. I found myself in the local Oxfam shop a couple of months ago. Recently refurbished, it holds a remarkable collection of books, organised by author making it easy to see what’s on offer. I was delighted and surprised to see an early Val McDermid book on sale for the princely sum of £1.50 and in almost pristine condition, so of course, I had to have it.

            This is my fourth Val McDermid experience and sometimes when you’ve read a few books by an individual author in quick succession there’s a danger of becoming bored with their style, tone or formulaic approach to writing. Nothing could be further from the truth in this case!

            ~~~THE AUTHOR~~~

            McDermid became the first woman from a Scottish state school to be accepted at St Hilda’s in Oxford to read English and went on to become a young and enthusiastic journalist. She always wanted to be a writer and struggled as most do, to become accepted by a publisher. It was only as recently as 1991 that she was able to give up her “day job” to concentrate on the work that is her passion – writing. Her novels have won international acclaim and she has won a number of high profile awards including the LA Times Book of the Year Award in 2001 for “A Place of Execution”, the novel I’m about to review. Further information on the author can be found in my earlier reviews featuring the same writer.

            ~~~THE BOOK, THE STORY, THE CHARACTERS~~~

            My interest was immediately piqued from the summary on the back cover where we’re informed that the story is about child disappearances at around the same time as the Myra Hindley/Ian Brady reign of terror had begun. A 13 year old girl (Alison Carter) has disappeared from a remote Derbyshire village in December 1963. Detective Inspector George Bennett, young and ambitious, is put in charge of this case and throws himself into it with a passion and commitment that is sometimes beyond the call of duty. In my opinion, it is not spoiling the plot to inform you that the whole story encompasses an investigation that leads to the suspicion of murder without a body.

            The book is written in two halves (two “books”), necessarily so, and is done so skilfully and with such precision and attention to detail that the halves are entirely complimentary. I’ve read books like this before and have often been frustrated by the first or the second half and ended up making a comparison of which is better or more articulately written. This is not so with “A Place of Execution”.

            The characters are interesting, engaging and strong and understandably focus heavily on the Police involvement in the investigation and their subsequent dilemma in building a case for murder against a suspect when no body has been recovered. The central character is DI George Bennett and his sidekick Tommy Clough. McDermid’s characterisation has always been exceptional and is even more so in this book. I found myself easily able to really identify with and recognise the characters; you felt that you’d come across them in walks of life and knew who they were. DI George Bennett is a University educated, fast tracked promotion graduate who is articulate, seemingly cautious but totally committed to obtaining results through hard graft and based on factual evidence. Tommy Clough, on the other hand, is your typical life cop, having been in the job a long time, been there, done that, hard drinking, womanising cynic. The author uses her incredible talents to build these two characters into a dynamic team that work together rather than against each other and manages to make this scenario entirely believable.

            The development and descriptions of the villager’s of Scardale is one of the best parts of this novel. There are two main families from the village with a couple of surnames being common and a history of a lot of “in-breeding” and tales of a village that is very much self preserved and extremely protective of its inhabitants. The village also has a “Squire” – someone who owns all of the properties and nearly all of the land and on whom the villager’s are entirely dependent for their livelihoods. Alison’s Mum (Ruth Hawkins) happens to be married to the Squire – her second marriage – and lives in Scardale Manor, the grandest house in the village. Ma Lomas, the village matriarch is everyone’s mum, grandmum or aunt and really is the “tour de force” behind each and every one of them. It is through her leadership and expert knowledge of the locality that events begin to unfold and the Police find enough evidence to make shocking, sickening discoveries about the chain of events that led to Alison’s disappearance. Based on the evidence that involves explicit photographic evidence of sexual abuse at the hands of someone the girl knows well, the Police set about building a case for murder; a case strong enough to charge someone with murder without that crucial piece of evidence … a body. Based almost solely on evidence that could be circumstantial, shockingly the death sentence is considered, but is it used?

            As someone who has known and experienced rural areas like this, I instantly recognised the survival instinct, the strength of the villager’s and their need to not be beholden to the powers that be. Initially, there is a lot of suspicion of the Police and concern that they had the missing girl and her family’s best interests at heart, rather than the detectives involved ambitions to develop careers at a high personal cost to them. Those suspicions are overcome in order to seek justice for Alison and whatever happened to her, and they begin to work with rather than against the Police to try and achieve that.

            DI Bennett and his team succeed in preparing a case that is considered strong enough to bring a murder charge without a body and a trial follows with a dramatic outcome.

            The second half of the book is set 25 years into the future in 1998. The result of the trial is so dramatic that a quarter of a century later, it starts to have an impact on the future and cannot stay buried in the past. Journalist Catherine Heathcote is about to write a novel about the case and manages to convince DI Bennett to talk about his experiences. Little did she know that she was about to uncover sensational, sinister information that threatens to destroy the lives of her friends and families as well as the Bennett’s comfortable lives and DI Bennett’s belief in his own integrity. Heathcote discovers the most incredible truth; the real truth about what happened to Alison Carter 25 years ago and it really does threaten to blow worlds apart.

            ~~~CONCLUSION~~~

            This book was an absolute delight to read and contained all the classic ingredients for a damned good murder mystery. Val McDermid manages once again to build an atmospheric, compelling, tension ridden story that will leave you chilled and fulfilled.

            In itself, the actual story is exceedingly clever, and has the reader gripped until the last chapter. I continue to be astonished by the sheer intelligence of this author’s writing and every novel I have read by her has stayed with me for a long time. McDermid really is a Master (Mistress?) in the art of story telling; I am overawed by the creativity of her imagination and her faultless narration of novels that keep me gripped from the first page to the last.

            This is one of the author’s earlier works and for me it’s the best so far. That’s not to say that her other novels are anything but terrific, simply that with this book, it’s hard to improve on perfection. I didn’t find this story quite so terrifying but it is definitely compelling and addictive. If anything the most overwhelming feeling I had whilst reading this was one of intense sadness. It’s a complex story, intelligently delivered, and filled with drama, suspense and atmosphere that will have you racing to the conclusion.

            I have one minor criticism of this novel. One of the most irksome parts of the story was the focus that was given to the smoking habits of the characters and particularly the Police officers. I’m sure it was partly done to create the feel of the Sixties, but in my opinion the references are excessive. So much so, that without the attention given over to descriptions of the habit the book itself could probably be at least one hundred pages shorter! I’m almost sure that anyone, smoker or otherwise, who has read this book would be inclined to agree with me. However, if you haven’t read the book, don’t let this put you off as it really is very minor indeed.

            Val McDermid is a force to be reckoned with in this genre and I for one continue to be hungry for more.

            ~~~ADDITIONAL INFORMATION~~~

            ISBN 0-00-651263-1
            Paperback £6.99
            Published by Harper Collins
            550 suspense filled pages
            Available from Amazon new £5.59, used from £0.95

            Cheers

            © Christina ;-) x

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              05.04.2001 20:41
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              Val McDermid is best known for her two series of crime thrillers - the rather light-hearted novels with PI Kate Brannigan and the far darker ones with criminal profiler Dr Tony Hill. A Place of Execution breaks out of these moulds in that it is a stand-alone novel. It has much of the darkness of the Tony Hill books without the level of explicit violence. The most notable point of this book is its unusual structure. It's not so much a single book as two books. Or possibly even three. Let me explain... The book is based around the disappearance in the '60s of schoolgirl Alison Carter. The setting is an isolated Derbyshire village, which causes this story to resonate strongly with real life events. The disappearance is investigated by DI George Bennett. This is the core story and is basically an old-fashioned police procedural. Old fashioned not just in terms of story but also of setting. Remember, this is an isolated village in the '60s. It's practically a separate country and McDermid skilfully conveys the oppressive, paranoid atmosphere. The residents of the close-knit community are suspicious of outsiders in general and authority in particular. Slowly, the clues come to light that point to Alison Carter's fate. Justice is done in spite of the mistrustful villagers who band together in solidarity. Around this core story are two others. The story of the Carter case is actually being told by modern day author Catherine Heathcote. She has been researching the investigation with the help of now retired George Bennett and is writing it up as a novelisation. This gives us the introduction to "A Place of Execution" - the first few pages are in fact Heathcote's introduction to *her* book! It's a little confusing at first. Then, at the end of the core story we move to the final part of the book. Bennett unexpectedly withdraws his co-operation and insists the project be scrapped.
              He refuses to explain and Heathcote is naturally miffed. She wants to know why Bennett has changed his mind and sets out to discover the truth. This switch between the Bennett's '60s investigation and Heathcote's contemporary one shows McDermid's skill. The reader has been so drawn in to the world of the old-fashioned, isolated village that the shift to the present day is quite a wrench. Prose style also changes, from a slow almost laid-back pacing to the much faster action and shorter sentences that we expect today. The contrast underlines McDermid's skill at handling the different styles. It's all very clever and very skilfully done. Unfortunately there aren't many surprises. There are so many hints as to the outcome of the core story that I kept expecting a twist that never came. When you get to the modern day investigation, the mere fact that Bennett has changed his mind gives you a good idea as to what is going on. OK, I didn't get the right names, however the basic ending was pretty clear. So, overall this is a well constructed and brilliantly executed book. Read it for the superb evocation of mood, place and period - just don't expect to be overly surprised. ISBN: 0006512631

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                16.07.2000 03:33
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                This mystery from Val McDermid is an absorbing story, enjoyable to read. The plot is effectively in two parts, a clever combination of police procedural and amateur detective novels. However, while worth reading, it is ultimately disappointing because of shortcomings which detract from the plot. The book is firmly rooted in its setting: an isolated village, Scardale, in the Peak District, at the time of the Moors Murders. Scardale’s physical isolation is reflected in its closely-related families and feudal attitudes. The outside world, in the form of the police, intrudes when the squire’s step-daughter goes missing. The village closes ranks against them, and they face trying to break this silence if they are to solve the mystery of the girl’s fate. Unfortunately, the village and its inhabitants do not really come to life. They do not seem to exist beyond their descriptions; it is as if the use of a very distinctive location substitutes for the creation of a genuine sense of atmosphere. Given its nature (the physical barriers it presents against the outside world), the village could not be anything but unwelcoming and closed upon itself. A more subtle evocation of these attitudes would have been more satisfying to the reader. Equally unsubtle were some of the attempts to introduce period atmosphere. Every so often, there are intrusive moments where characters talk unnaturally to emphasise that this is taking place in The Sixties: “She’s just got the new Beatles number one, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’.” My mum never talked like that about my record collection! Before buying this book, I wasn’t too sure about the references made in the blurb to the Brady/Hindley murders. Having read it, I felt that the references to those events were exploitative rather than essential to the plot. However, I may be doing the author a disservice: this is perhaps be less an attemp
                t to attract readers than another piece of shorthand used to evoke a particular time and tension. Either way, it is an unsatisfactory device. The detective upon whom the book focuses is a fast-track graduate, who has made extremely rapid progress to the rank of Detective Inspector. He faces a little mild hostility, spends a lot of time being careful not to be patronising to his less-educated subordinates, and is generally reminiscent of various other police heroes created by various other authors. The second part of the book moves to the 1990s, and at this point is actually less convincing. The strong sense of place is lost, with little to replace it. The author of the first half, a writer about to publish her book of the mystery, becomes the protagonist. She is led by the behaviour of the now-retired detective to carry out further investigations into the old crime. (I hope this doesn’t seem to give too much away; it’s actually less information than appears on the back of the book). Given the slightly heavy-handed approach to developing atmosphere and character, a similar approach to moral issues does not come as any surprise. The ending turns almost to melodrama. Without giving the plot away, I will just say that its conclusion seems to have been aimed more at avoiding moral ambiguity than at being a convincing resolution. In summary, this book held my attention and was a reasonably entertaining read. However, I did end up feeling short-changed by the lack of subtlety, which certainly stopped it living up to its blurb. It promises rather more than it delivers.

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                  12.06.2000 22:44
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                  Val McDermid's writing tends to fall into 2 camps - the lighter, cheery female P.I. shenanigans of Kate Brannigan and Lindsay Gordon, and much darker tales of the nastier side of human nature, with a variety of protagonists. This is firmly in the latter category, a novel concerning the disappearance of a young girl in 60s Yorkshire and the resulting investigation and trial. All is not as it appears however, and the last quarter of the book brings us to the present and some stunning revelations. A gripping book, from start to finish, that I struggled to put down. Tension is grown slowly but surely, and whilst you might think you've figured it all out quite quickly, trust me, you haven't. McDermid is rapidly becoming a must-read author in my house, and after reading this I'm sure you'll agree.

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