Still Life (DCI Karen Pirie) by Val McDermid

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Still Life (DCI Karen Pirie) by Val McDermid

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: It's the sixth book in the DCI Karen Pirie series and this one was at least partly-written in lockdown. Most of the hallmarks of McDermid's books are there - the characterisation is superb and the writing is exquisite but a clue is given early on which was so obvious to me that I couldn't understand why no one else spotted it. It was, of course, the solution but if you don't spot it, this is a five-star book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: August 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1408712283

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It was the middle of February and bitterly cold when a fishing boat out of St Monans pulled a body out the Firth of Forth instead of a lobster pot. It fell to DCI Charlie Todd and DS Daisy Mortimer to investigate and it didn't take too long to establish that the man was Paul Allard, ostensibly a Frenchman, but in reality James Auld of Edinburgh. A decade earlier he's gone missing when he was the prime suspect in the disappearance and possible murder of his brother, prominent civil servant, Iain Auld. DCI Karen Pirie, as head of Police Scotland Historic Crimes Unit, had been the last person to review the case, a couple of years earlier and it seemed sensible to bring her into the case at an early stage.

Karen was already involved with another case. Susan Leitch had been killed in a road traffic accident and when her sister was clearing her house she discovered a VW camper van in the garage with a skeleton in the back. Number plates had been removed from the van but ownership was eventually traced to Amanda McAndrew, formerly Susan Leitch's partner, but who had since been in a relationship with silversmith Daniella Gilmartin. Is the body either McAndrew to Gilmartin - and where is the other?

Hamish McKenzie is still very much a feature of Karen Pirie's life, but she's aware that he's no replacement for the love of her life, Phil Parhatka, who was killed some years ago. There's a lot to like about Hamish, not least his chain of coffee shops, croft in Wester Ross and flat in Edinburgh's New Town. He's easy on the eye too, but he's wanting to take charge of Karen's life and matters came to a head when he trailed Karen to the release of the man who had been responsible for Phil's death. Will too much work and deep-seated anger be too much for the relationship to carry?

Whilst Pirie and Daisy Mortimer pursue the James Auld case, responsibility for the McAndrew/Gilmartin death rests with DC Jason Murray - The Mint, as he's generally known. He's better at being independent than he used to be but that's not going to stop him getting into difficulties.

It's a Val McDermid book so it almost goes without saying that the writing is superb. There isn't a wasted word and the pages seem to turn themselves. I'm sure that if McDermid wrote a shopping list, it would be a pleasure to read. The characterisation is excellent too: regular readers of the series will be familiar with many of them but the book reads perfectly well as a stand-alone and new characters come off the page fully formed. They stay in your mind long after you've turned the final page. So, you're wondering, why only four stars for Still Life?

Well, it's the plot. Fairly early in the book, there's a clue in one of the cases and the team mull over what it could mean. No, I'm not going to tell you what it is! To me, it was obvious. It reminded me of something Jennifer Archer said in The Archers, oh, about six or so years ago and which amused me at the time. I kept wanting to shout the answer out, like an impatient child who is being deliberately ignored by the teacher. I had it all worked out: I knew what had happened and why it had happened. I was waiting to be debunked, as I usually am when this happens. I might not have had all the finer points, but the nuts and bolts of the plot were obvious to me from a very early stage.

Did it spoil the book? No, not entirely - I enjoyed reading it and if the clue isn't obvious to you then this could well be a five-star book, but I finished it with a slight feeling of disappointment and the knowledge that I was unlikely to reread. That's never happened to me with one of McDermid's later books before.

I'd still like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If you're looking for more Edinburgh crime the obvious choice is Ian Rankin, but don't overlook Quintin Jardine or Gillian Galbraith.

Val McDermid's DCI Karen Pirie Novels in Chronological Order

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