Crime-fiction loving friends, of which I have a large number, have been urging me to read one author for quite a while - Val McDermid. Last week I had a nasty accident and ended up spending a couple of days at Other Half's home while I was recuperating. With no books on me (a most unusual occurence), I was quickly becoming booksick. Thankfully OH's Mum had a variety of books at hand, one of which was The distant echo, my chance to finally read a Val McDermid.

I'm not sure how typical of her style is The distant echo. It's a sort of police procedural, but with very little of the police in it. In fact the police are not reflected particularly well in this. What it is though, is a very good crime novel, told from a rather unusual perspective.

A group of friends attending St. Andrews' university are on their way home from a drunken night out - an early Christmas celebration, when they stumble across a girl's body. The dead barmaid, Rosie Duff, is known to all of them; and at least one of the group has a massive crush on her. The case proves very difficult to crack though, and the seemingly innocent students find themselves at the centre of suspicion. Rosie Duff's death will lead to another death, and will split the group of friends up. Many years later a cold case review is opened into Duff's death, but as death visits the friends who found the body, it would appear that someone is anxious to get justice for Rosie before the cold case is resolved. But is this really what is happening, or is the murderer just trying to cover his tracks?

I thought this was a brilliant thriller, even if I did guess very early on (first page he was mentioned!) who was the murderer. Having said which though, this is a clever thriller. Very well constructed, great characterisation, and a haunting memorable plot. It's unusual in a thriller to concentrate on the fall-out from a murder. McDermid deals sensitively here with those who are left behind trying to come to terms with their loss; and with those on whom suspicion falls wrongly. A great introduction to the work of Val McDermid, I'm looking forward to reading more.


Anonymous said…
She's very good isn't she? All her books have great insight into motivation and aftermath of some tragedy or other. They are more than just stock thrillers (although I like those too). I quite often find myself sympathising with the killer as, presumably as in life, things are never as straightforward as just a villain and a victim. @aardvarkface
Margaret Jones said…
It was the way she dealt with the aftermath that really impressed me. Her attitude towards those who are falsely accused, and to the family, all struggling to deal with grief in very different ways, gave the novel a veracity, that I think you often don't get in crime novels.

Great sense of place too, with the bleakness of St. Andrews in winter adding another level of darkness to the plot. It's well worth catching up on the first part of Andrew Marr's "Paperback Heroes" on BBC iPlayer, there's a really interesting interview with Val McDermid on there towards the end of the episode.
Val McDermid seems such a lovely person, she is great when interviewed or writing about crime fiction, she does so much for the world of books - I wish I could get on with her books better. I really didn't like this one, and it was one of the reasons I stopped reading her - each to her own! Glad you enjoyed it.
Margaret Jones said…
Agree with you re Val McDermid. Always really enjoy her interviews. I loved "The distant echo", though I thought as a crime novel it was not without faults - not least guessing the villain so early on. I enjoyed her perspective though, so I suspect that it may not be the most typical novel of her style. Sorry it disappointed you. As you say, each to their own :-)

Popular Posts