Chain-reading crime fiction is a seriously satisfying hobby, but not the most sociable if we’re honest. It’s all very well settling down to read another cracking tale, then sharing your views via Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads or – best of all – CrimeFictionLover, but we all need a little company every now and then.
My companion of choice would be DCI Karen Pirie. True, she is prone to moments of introspection, has tragedy in her not-so-distant past and a penchant for solitary strolls in the wee small hours of the morning, but she is a loyal and true friend and, best of all, a gin aficionado. So much so that reading Out of Bounds is likely to send you to Google, searching out some of the fascinating brands mentioned within.
Not so fast though – because you’ll need your wits about you to fully appreciate this, Val McDermid’s 30th novel. Make no mistake, the Queen of Crime is not planning to abdicate her position any time soon.
Right from page one, she sets the pulses racing with a joy ride that ends up as anything but joyful for the four illegal occupants of the vehicle in question. One ends up in a coma and when a sample to check on Ross Garvie’s blood alcohol levels pings an alert on the DNA database, Tayside Police know DCI Pirie is the person to call. She’s the boss of the Historic Cases Unit, and the DNA of the young joyrider is a close familial match to the perpetrator of an unsolved rape and murder in Glasgow 20 years ago.
The news sets Karen and her nice-but-dim sidekick DC Jason Murray on the trail of a man who thought he’d got off scot-free and it all seems so simple – they need talk to Garvie’s father as a matter of urgency. Trouble is Garvie was adopted and he doesn’t know it. And Scottish law makes it mighty difficult to access adoption records without the adopted person’s consent. So, not so simple after all.
Meanwhile, a solitary man with mental health problems is taking his customary stroll to the pub in Kinross for his customary pint with an old friend. Gabriel Abbott is a man of habit, and he has much on his mind as he sets off to walk back to his cottage along the waterside path at the side of Loch Leven.
The following day Gabriel is found dead, sitting on a bench at the water’s edge, a gunshot would to his head. Murder or suicide? It’s really none of Pirie’s concern, but the case is being ‘investigated’ by the serially lazy DI Alan Noble so Pirie takes an interest. And when it transpires that Gabriel’s mother died in very dramatic circumstances when he was a small child, Karen can’t resist the siren call of a case that was never taken to a satisfactory conclusion.
In Karen Pirie we have a multi-layered central character who could easily be one of your best mates. She’s been using work as a crutch after the death of her partner and soulmate; hence the insomnia and late night walks that give her thinking time (and send her off on another, unrelated crusade). She is still grieving but taking the first tentative steps to recovery and the social side of her story offered a light counterpoint to the dark side of detective work – because things get downright dangerous before this twisty tale is through.
Out of Bounds is the fourth novel in the Karen Pirie series, which began with The Distant Echo, but it’s my first meeting with her. She’s an entertaining companion and I didn’t want to wave her off at the end of a book which clearly demonstrates that Val McDermid is firmly at the top of her game, 30 novels or not.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars