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Tuesday 12 July 2016

‘The Skeleton Road’ by Val McDermid

Published 8 December 2016
US: by Grove Press.
ISBN 978-0-8021-2421-0. (PB)
UK: by Sphere.
ISBN 978-0-7515-5128-0. (PB)

The brief prologue of Val McDermid’s newest book describes the brutal murder in Crete of a man whose throat is cut, the first of many killings, both old and new, described in this fascinating novel.  The second one becomes evident when a skeleton is found on the roof of a building in Edinburgh that was about to be demolished.  The case is assigned to DCI Karen Pirie and her second-in-command, DC Jason Murray, of the Historic Cases Unit (as cold cases in Police Scotland are called), aided by Karen’s best friend, Dr. River Wilde, forensic anthropologist “the nearest thing Karen had to a best friend.  Cursed by her hippie parents with a name nobody could take seriously, River had worked harder and smarter than any of her colleagues to earn respect beyond dispute.

We are soon introduced to Professor Maggie Blake, self-described geography professor at Oxford, turning 50 as the book opens and a distinguished academic, prolific author, beloved tutor and efficient snapper-up of research grants.”  Maggie is still trying to get past the fact that her significant other, a man she’d met in Dubrovnik in 1991 when he was 32, a retired Croatian general who was a NATO security advisor in Bosnia and a UN monitor in Kosovo, had gone of the grid and disappeared from her life eight years ago.  She too has a best friend, Tessa Minogue, a lawyer “who dealt in the thorny moral dilemmas of human rights,” involved in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

The book’s over-riding theme is that the world was more complex than it was comfortable to admit, as this book makes clear in its own complexities.  There is much here about the massacres in the Balkans in the later years of the 20 th century.  Maggie has written a book about the consequences of the siege of Dubrovnik, but is now working on the story of “how she came to be there [and] the convoluted journey that had led her to Kosovo with its massacres and rape camps.”  Interspersed through the tale are chapters of that work-in-progress.  There are ongoing investigations of eleven instances of ICTFY targets being assassinated in what is believed to be someone’s idea of vigilante justice, and all of the investigations of these murders, old or current, converge in a fascinating plot with great historical detail, leading up to a suspenseful and jaw-dropping denouement, and the book is recommended
Reviewer: Gloria Feit
Val McDermid  grew up in Kirkcaldy on the East Coast of Scotland.  Val was accepted at 17 to read English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford,  one of the youngest undergraduates they’d ever taken on, and the first from a Scottish state school. She worked for fourteen years on national newspapers in Glasgow and Manchester, ending up as Northern Bureau Chief of a national Sunday tabloid. Her first book Report for Murder  was published by The Women’s Press in 1987. She finally gave up the day job in April, 1991, and has been making her living by writing ever since. She still reviews regularly for various national newspapers, and also writes occasional journalism and broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland. Val divides her year between writing and promoting her work at home and abroad, and when she is not travelling, she divides her time between South Manchester and Edinburgh where she lives with her partner and her son.

Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.

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