Val McDermid is best known for her Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series, but as I mentioned in my review of A Darker Domain last year, I’ve always preferred those featuring Karen Pirie – who has always felt to me like a more grounded and rounded protagonist; and one who is more fun to be around. That is no different here, in a story which stretches from free climbing in Edinburgh to the atrocities conducted in the mid 90s in former Yugoslavia.
It kicks off with a skeleton being found at the top of a suitably gothic building in Edinburgh, but gradually expands into a rich and psychological thriller encompassing a love triangle, moral and ethical dilemmas aplenty, and much for Pirie (& the reader) to get their teeth into. In parallel to her investigations, the international crime tribunal are trying to find someone who is taking justice into their own hands, frustrated by the slow pace of the courts. Somewhat inevitably, the two collide and overlap.
It is a complicated tale, and I think your enjoyment of it will depend on whether the particular subject matter (the Balkans / genocide / war crimes) is of sufficient interest to sustain significant diversions from what would otherwise be a more propulsive plot. McDermid’s mastery of the form means she brings you back on track and just about keeps it all hanging together (albeit with some hefty suspension of disbelief). Overall, I felt the stretch of subject matter worked, and gave it more heft and depth that would otherwise have been the case; in that it sets more of the brain working than your standard whodunnit.
BUY IT NOW: The Skeleton Road (Karen Pirie Book 3)