A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

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A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A police investigation and a journalist after a scoop cross paths as two 20-year-old cold cases arise as ghosts of the days of the miners strike in the small coastal communities of Fife. Desertion. Kidnap. Murder. Suicide. Just some of the possibilities in the latest offering from the creator of Wire in the Blood's Tony Hill.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: September 2008
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
ISBN: 978-0007243297

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The Miners' Strike is a phrase a bit like The War. It is apparently non-specific but to the British it invokes no misconceptions. We know precisely what is meant.

For all the wars there were before and since, when anyone speaks about the war or even the last war, they don't mean the Great War, or any of those that might actually qualify as the last one. They mean the Second World War. THE war. The one that really did change the world forever.

Similarly, the miners had struck before. They have almost certainly struck since. But the miners' strike – the expression unqualified – means the big one. The one that changed the word forever. Or at least changed Britain forever.

1984-85

It was instrumental in Maggie's utter destruction of the Union movement in this country. It ruined, possibly forever, the public's relationship with its police force. It set in train the full-scale demise of a struggling industry. It had ramifications way beyond that in the extent to which it tore families and communities apart. The divisions created during that strike and its aftermath bear comparison with those arising from the Troubles in Northern Ireland. They linger now, decades later.

To fully grasp the context of A Darker Domain you need to remember this. Few British over the age of thirty will have forgotten. Anyone who lives in the areas where it happened, or had miners in the family, will feel it still. For the younger generation and our cross-water cousins, it may be a little harder to grasp.

Devastating is much misappropriated word. When we talk about the miners' strike: it applies.

In the summer of 2007, a nice middle-class woman walks into a police station in Glenrothes (a small town in Fife, about halfway between Edinburgh & Dundee). She is there to report a missing person.

The reason this ends up on the desk of DI Karen Pirie, the senior investigating officer of the Cold Case Review Team, is because the missing person went missing 22 years ago. At the heart of the strike.

Misha has the best reason in the world to suddenly want to find her dad – the scab who allegedly went blacklegging in the Nottingham pits and caused the rest of the family to be not just abandoned by him but ostracised by the entire community into the bargain. Her son needs a bone marrow transplant. The known family have been ruled out as potential donors. Her father is a last ditch attempt. She needs to know where he is.

He went missing early in 1985. The rumours took only days to be substantiated. There was no more contact, except for occasional envelopes of cash. Used notes. Not acceptable. Even now, her mother refuses to talk. But Misha will no longer take silence for an answer.

Something else happened back in 1984/85 not a million miles away from the mining communities of Wemyss on the Fife coast. The local tycoon, hardly a laird of the old blood, has taken over Rotheswell Castle and is trying to live up to image: largely by not allowing his daughter to follow her own dreams and/or consort with the lower orders. Daughters being what they are, Catriona just ignores him and goes her own way regardless. Until she, and her baby son, are kidnapped.

A ransom handover goes very badly wrong. Catriona is killed. Baby Adam vanishes.

In 2007 as DI Karen Pirie is taking details of Misha's missing dad in a bleak room in a Fife police station, investigative journalist Bel Richmond is making a gruesome discovery in an abandoned Tuscan villa. A blood-stain on the kitchen floor could just be the site of the annual pig-slaughtering… but there's no doubting the poster advertising the puppet show. It is identical to those used 20 years ago to demand the ransom for Catriona Maclennan Grant.

This is sufficient for Bel to talk her way into Rotheswell Castle and better access to Cat's father Broderick (Brodie) than anyone has had in over a quarter of decade. A true blown hack, with pretensions to the big-time, Bel is convinced she can control and manipulate the situation to her own ends.

Brodie calls in the police, believing that he is the one with the upper hand.

And of course, DI Pirie who is officially assigned this case (whilst unofficially working on the missing Mick Prentice affair) is definitely nobody's numpty.

The strands of both stories are traced in present time (2007) and flashback (1980s), switching between Scotland and Italy and Nottingham, as both Bel and Karen pursue their own leads. Slowly the twines begin to plait.

Written without the accustomed chapters, and relying instead on the shorter episodic breaks between place and location (each with its own focus for the narrative), the style does take a little while to settle into but once you're there: you're gripped.

As you'd expect from the creator of TV's Wire in the Blood Val McDermid hangs her story heavily on the psychology of the people involved, which in turn is heavily influenced by the events of the time. Her feeling for the setting, time and place, is accurate enough to be delivered largely by dialogue and thought process. Long descriptive passages are unnecessary. The result is that the action, the investigation, doesn't pause for breath. It doesn't progress at an unrealistic breakneck speed, but doggedly, relentlessly, continuously throwing up clues and herrings.

In the best tradition of detective fiction McDermid twists her tale enticingly without the need to introduce surprise characters or untenable facts at the end. All progresses with satisfying puzzle-solving believability.

It's a bit of a shame that she could not have found a more subtle mechanism for finally disclosing the full history of the events, but that is a minor flaw in a crime drama that brings alive the still-present societal stratification (albeit now based on money rather than class), deftly draws in the current flavours of cold case investigation, forensics, archaeological/anthropological academia as mastered and wielded by a female cop who's the perfect blend of maverick and evidence-savvy by-the-booker, and pays due homage to a time not to be forgotten.

This is a book almost begging for small-screen adaptation. It will almost certainly lose & gain in translation: read it first.

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

For anyone into crime with a Scots setting Ian Rankin has to be the first port of call but do spare a glance also for newcomer Grace Monroe whose protagonist Brodie McLennan is absolutely certainly no relation to the Broderick Maclennan Grant of this tale... unless Edinburgh crime circles are even more involved and interknit than we know.

Val McDermid's DCI Karen Pirie Novels in Chronological Order

Buy A Darker Domain by Val McDermid at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Darker Domain by Val McDermid at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy A Darker Domain by Val McDermid at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Darker Domain by Val McDermid at Amazon.com.


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