I’m not sure why I haven’t read Val McDermid before, or why I wanted to read this one, but I am so glad it happened, and I thank Atlantic Monthly Press and NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advance copy of Out of Bounds in exchange for my honest review!
McDermid fans may already be familiar with Chief Inspector Karen Pirie of Police Scotland, as Out of Bounds is #4 in a series with this feisty female protagonist. I plan to read the first three in the series (The Distant Echo, A Darker Domain, and The Skeleton Road), but this story doesn’t require any prior knowledge, and functions as a standalone novel (although I am fairly sure that some of the facts of Karen’s life and relationships as told in Out of Bounds involved people who were featured in earlier novels but are “no longer around” — no spoilers!!)
The story opens with what seems like three disjointed chapters telling separate stories involving a teenager and his buddies stealing a car and getting involved in a fatal crash, a young man drinking in a pub who wanders off into a very bad situation, and an insomniac who walks for hours in a nightly effort to quell her demons. Being somewhat linear, my initial reaction was along the lines of “huh?” but somehow I knew these things would come together…and the definitely did.
The insomniac is the protagonist, policewoman Karen Pirie. She is called in to investigate following the car crash, and her rule-bending investigation of an apparent terrorist bombing twenty years ago leads her to the pub patron. I can’t give much detail without spoiling the incredibly well-crafted story (or stories), but everything works! The stories come together, Karen becomes someone the reader just KNOWS, and there are some intriguing subplots and asides (including mentions of Nicola Stugeon, comments about Trump, and a thought-provoking look at some Syrian refugees).
I love Karen Pirie. “She was good at making people relax into revelation. She thought it was something to do with her apparent lack of sophistication. A few extra pounds (less than there used to be, but still…); a wardrobe that always looked slightly rumpled; a haircut that never qite delivered what it had promised in the salon. Women never felt threatened by her and men treated her like a wee sister or a favourite auntie.” Fans of Elizabeth George’s Lynley series may find her reminiscent of Barbara Havers – another fictional female detective I happen to love.
In addition to being educational about Scottish culture and justice (e.g., when adoptees in Scotland reach adulthood, they can learn the facts of their birth parents), the book uses language that transports the non-Scottish reader to another country: “He’d been sitting at the bar in his usual seat, blethering to another one of the locals about some political stooshie in South East Asia.”
Maybe all of McDermid’s books are this well crafted. I hope so, as I plan to begin to work my way through them, starting with the earlier titles in the Pirie series, then exploring either the Kate Brannigan or the Lindsay ordon books (there are six in each series), or the nine books in the Tony Hill-Carol Jordan stories. The publication dates of the Lindsay Gordon books go from 1987 to 2003, te Brannigan from 1992 to 1998, and the Hill-Jordan books from 1995 to 2015. Val McDermid has been a busy woman, and I love finding an new (to me) author!