The following review will also be published on Amazon US & UK and Goodreads. (Also twittered about and I’ll tell everyone forever that they must read it)
This is a standalone novel but chronologically it is the third novel featuring DCI Karen Pirie and published after The Distant Echo and A Darker Domain.
Val McDermid is one of my favourite authors and (along with another favourite of mine Stephen King) has that uncanny gift of being able to build up the plot slowly while introducing us to the characters and drawing us in so that we enjoy reading about the personality and background of each character before the story moves on and other characters are introduced and interwoven skilfully into the narrative. This is an intelligent, thought provoking and initially complex novel that moves effortlessly between time periods and the present day and also various different locations.
DCI Karen Pirie is head of the Historic Cases Unit for Police Scotland in Edinburgh, so when a skeleton with a bullet hole in the skull is found in a tower at the top of a deserted building in Edinburgh the case is assigned to her unit. The search first for the identity of the victim and then finding out why they were murdered, by whom and for what motive, takes her to Oxford and then to the Balkans where the atrocities of the Serbo-Croat War of 1991-1995 have some bearing on the case.
Meanwhile, the atrocities of the Balkans have not been forgotten by an Oxford academic, Professor Maggie Blake, an authority on the Balkan wars and a published author who in the present day is writing a memoir about her time during the siege of Dubrovnik when she chose to stay in the city with the love of her life, a General in the Croatian Army, giving the reader another perspective into the unfolding case with a book within a book.
There are more killings and another trail with different characters under pressure to solve cases that maybe connected to the skeleton in the tower.
I did guess the identity of one character towards the end before the denouement but not the whole story. The ending is a shocker!
Val McDermid must have undertaken a staggering amount of research on the Balkans to write this book and I see from the Acknowledgements at the end that some expert friends were consulted.
Although the serious subject matter within the book was handled very sensitively, there are glimpses of black humour, particularly from DCI Karen Pirie, a character that I really like and warmed to.
At times I just stopped reading this and hugged the book, as you do when you know you’re reading a good book. I read this for one of my, soon to be a regular feature on my blog, Switch Off and Read Day, where all devices were turned off, social media went unchecked and I read a physical book made of paper. Bliss! That practice and this book are highly recommended 🙂