The number one bestseller and unrivalled queen of crime Val McDermid is back with her most exhilarating, breath-taking thriller yet.
On a freezing winter morning, fishermen pull a body from the sea. It is quickly discovered that the dead man was the prime suspect in a decade-old investigation, when a prominent civil servant disappeared without trace. DCI Karen Pirie was the last detective to review the file and is drawn into a sinister world of betrayal and dark secrets.
But Karen is already grappling with another case, one with even more questions and fewer answers. A skeleton has been discovered in an abandoned campervan and all clues point to a killer who never faced justice – a killer who is still out there.
In her search for the truth, Karen uncovers a network of lies that has gone unchallenged for years. But lies and secrets can turn deadly when someone is determined to keep them hidden for good…
I don’t think that it will be much of a surprise to those who pop by my blog now and then to hear that I thought Still Life by Val McDermid is a terrific book. But, of course, I do and it is.
Set in the early weeks of 2020 there is a slight nod to the storm to come that was, is, the covid pandemic. This is not a story about it. This is yet again a very accomplished crime fiction story.
McDermid writes an intriguing and complex story. DCI Karen Pirie, Head of Police Scotland’s Historical Cases Unit, has just begun an investigation into a historic (cold) case murder. A skeleton has been found in a campervan.
A body is recovered by fishermen out at sea. DCI Charlie Todd has his first murder case but when the body turns out to belong to a suspect in an historic case, that of a missing civil servant Iain Auld, senior police officer ACC Mackie decides that Karen should take the overall lead on that case too.
Jason Murray, Karen’s DC, works with her on the camper van case. Whilst DS Daisy Mortimer, part of DCI Todd’s team, works with Karen on the Auld case and liaises between Karen and Charlie with regard to the two sides of that investigation.
Besides DCI Karen Pirie (KP nuts) the other main characters are Jason, affectionately known as ‘The Mint’, and Daisy.
Karen’s personal life also plays a role in the story. She’s been seeing Hamish for about six months it’s been quite a step for her since Phil’s death. Things are going pretty well. Merrick Shand, the man who killed Phil, is up for release after three years and that has stirred up a lot of anger in Karen. She wants Shand to know he’s being kept an eye on, put the wind up him a bit. Those close to her don’t want her to get in any trouble over what she might do. Still, although she may be hot headed at times, hence the KP nuts, she isn’t stupid and knows not to overstep the mark.
The two investigations are fascinating. Jason takes up some slack on the camper van enquiry when Karen is investigating the Auld case. She still keeps in touch and spends time with Jason when she can. She’s happy for Jason to carry on as she knows he wouldn’t do anything daft.
Daisy is a great find, Karen appreciates her upbeat attitude, but she has a lot to learn and finds working with Karen illuminating and quite a learning experience.
The story takes us from Scotland to London, Paris, Caen, Stockport, Dublin, Ramelton and Omagh. As Karen, Jason and Daisy investigate the cases. The storylines show the everyday activities of police enquiries but soon both cases hot up as the resolutions come into play. The Northern Irish Police join up with Karen and Daisy in the final chase of the Auld case whilst Jason finds himself in a very difficult situation in Stockport.
With a supporting cast of wonderful characters, some we’ve met before others are newcomers, we have as always a tremendous plot and a gripping story provided by the inimitable Val McDermid who never lets the reader, me certainly and hopefully you, down.
This was my 19th and final read for #20Booksofsummer. You can check out my list here. I had hoped to read 20 but time just ran out. I did start Leonard and the Hungry Paul and have since finished it so I’ll be sharing what I thought in due course.
Cathy from 746Books is the mastermind and host behind this annual event do take a look at her excellent blog.
Published: Little, Brown Book Group UK: 20 August 2020
Literary agent: David Higham Associates
Buy: Your local bookshop | Bookshop .org (affiliate link) | or use the following links:
Author: Val was born in Kirkcaldy, a coastal town in the heart of the Scottish mining community. She graduated in English from St Hilda’s College, Oxford – the first from a Scottish state school to do so – before going on to be an award-winning journalist for sixteen years.
Val McDermid’s website | @valmcdermid | Full biography
You can check out all of Val McDermid’s books on her website which is full of information
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I loved this one too. The Karen Pirie series has been the best stuff she’d done in years, I think – or at least the stuff that most suits my tastes. I liked in this one that they travelled outside Scotland, but it still remains a very Scottish book (but that she mostly left her political biases out of it, for once!).
Yes, it’s become a favourite with me too! So glad you enjoy it too. And I found the Irish parts regarding the police procedure and Karen’s use of the border interesting. Jason and Daisy are terrific characters – to have the two ‘foils’. (And, yes, better when the politics are not so ‘on your face’. Although I understand the use as part of setting in time.) It’s certainly a good series.
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m planning on watching the tv show based on this series soon.
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Thanks. I’ve watched some of it and it’s been good although I didn’t have quite the same picture in my head of Karen Pirie but it didn’t really bother me. I hope you enjoy it.
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