For years, I held out on reading Val McDermid until I could find this book. I can’t remember where it was first recommended to me but it was often billed as the best of her illustrious career. It probably sat on my primary Amazon list for close to two years. Trips to bookstores proved fruitless. Until one day, I stumbled on it for sale at my local library’s book sale. Yay for libraries and their book sales!
Even after I got it, it’s probably been on my shelf for over a year. There were other things. But with the pandemic keeping us all at home, I figured what the heck. It’s time. And oh, was it time. This book rocks.
Well, it is still depressing. It has a heavy dosage of child abuse so if that’s a trigger for you, sit it out. But otherwise, it shows that McDermid belongs up there with the great contemporary British mystery writers.
This one came out in 1999 before the post Gillian Flynn explosion of the female-written mystery/thriller. I have to imagine if it came out now, it would be hyped as such. But like the work of Tana French, there’s nothing cheap or thriller-like about it. It’s a slow burn, building its cold, wet world in a remote English village and taking time with characterization. The mystery gathers steam into the 60s, leading to a conclusion that, while somewhat predictable, is gripping all the same because McDermid is great at setting the pins up and knocking them over for a payoff.
The book suffers a little in its final 4th. I’m not sure it needed it or perhaps the execution could have been different. There was also an added twist to the twist that I didn’t care for. But it touched on the major themes that the first 75% of the story had laid out so I wasn’t too disappointed. I may not have been as gripped as I was when it was set in the 60s but I was still eager to see how it ended.
I’ll definitely be getting to Val McDermid more in the future. I just hope she has more stuff like this.