Broken Ground by Val McDermid

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Broken Ground by Val McDermid

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Val McDermid at her superb best: if I hadn't rationed myself to so many pages a day I'd have finished in one glorious sitting. Come to think of it, I don't know why I didn't!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: August 2018
Publisher: Little, Brown
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1408709351

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As the Officer in Charge of the Historic Cases Unit, DCI Karen Pirie rarely finds herself at the scene of the crime, but for once, she's in the right place at the right time when a body is dug up in the Highlands. Initially it looks as though the death dates back to WWII, but the fact that the dead man is wearing a pair of Nikes means that the case is Karen's. A little while later she'd come to think that she'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time when she overheard a conversation in a cafe. Intervening, she thought that she'd prevented a crime, but what she said would come back to haunt her.

I rationed myself to so many pages a day with Broken Ground: if I hadn't I'd have finished it in one sitting. It's Val McDermid at her superb best and nearly a week after finishing the book I'm still amazed at the skill of the plotting, not least because it's made to look so effortless. Of all McDermid's characters, Karen Pirie is my favourite. I empathise with Pirie's description of herself: [h]e turned down the beautiful high-flying Ann Markie for a dumpy wee woman with bad hair and terrible dress sense. And zero ambition. Pirie's not about looks or self-promotion: she's about getting closure for people who may have struggled with bereavement for years and need to feel that justice has been done.

Ann Markie is Pirie's new boss and Karen had hoped that the replacement of the man who'd been a thorn in her side would be an improvement, but Markie's attitude to the women under her command reminds you of Margaret Thatcher and it seems that she's determined to oust Pirie no matter how successful she's been. Markie's first move is to put her own man into the Historic Cases Unit: Pirie had wanted someone to do the backroom stuff to free up herself and DC Jason Murray to do the investigative work, but what she gets is Sergeant Gerry McCartney. He's politically incorrect, insensitive and his only loyalty is to himself.

For a long time I thought that it would be difficult to better Ian Rankin, but I think McDermid definitely has the edge now. She has Rankin's talents for the complex plot and great characterisation, but Rankin looks like a one-trick pony by comparison. His Rebus books are mostly superb, but I've not been particularly impressed when he moves outside Rebus's orbit. Even his Malcolm Fox books, which began promisingly as a separate series now seem to have amalgamated. McDermid, on the other hand, has proved herself with more than one main character over a series of books and she's strong on more than one location.

Broken Ground will read well as a astandalone, but you'll get more out of the book if you know the background to the characters. It's hardly a trial to read them in order!

By coincidence I've just read another book where the clothes the victim was wearing when he died would alter the course of the investigation: Beau Death (Peter Diamond Mystery) by Peter Lovesey.

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Buy Broken Ground by Val McDermid at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Broken Ground by Val McDermid at


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