Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Distant Echo: Val McDermid

In 1978, four young men, students at St. Andrews University, walk home from a party in the early morning hours. They are very drunk, loud and rambunctious. They happen upon a woman's body; it is clear she has been stabbed and is near death. One of them goes for help. By the time he has returned with a policeman, the woman has died, although one of the students tried to save her.

The victim, who was raped before she was stabbed, is Rosie Duff, a barmaid at a pub that the students frequented. Immediately they become the chief suspects in the crime. When no other viable suspects turn up, and the crime is not solved, they continue to be under a cloud of suspicion.

Twenty five years later, the case is reopened by a newly commissioned cold case squad. Assistant Chief Constable James Lawson, who was a police constable at the time of the crime, heads the squad, and DC Karen Pirie is investigating the Rosie Duff murder.


The first 160 pages (of 400) of The Distant Echo cover the discovery of the crime and the first few days of the investigation. The rest of the book is about the investigation of the crime 25 years later, and the impact that the unsolved crime has had on the four men over time.

The story focuses on the four young men throughout the first part of the book and they continue to feature prominently in the second half. Whether one or more of them is actually the murderer is left open for most of the book, and I got very involved with their stories. I guessed the resolution of the mystery early on but there was enough doubt to keep it interesting.

What else did I like about this book:

  • The use of the setting in Scotland is marvelous, especially in the first half of the book.
  • The perfect balance of / blending of the story about the four young men who find the body and and the police investigation.
  • The story in 1978 vs the story in 2003 is handled well. With the book split into two parts, there is less confusion than when the book goes back and forth.
  • Good character development. There are three main police officers, the four suspects, Rosie Duff's family and the families of the suspects. That is a lot of characters, but even with the jump to 25 years later in their lives, it did not get confusing and they were all well defined.

This is billed as the first book in the Karen Pirie series, but she only shows up after 200 pages into the story and even after that only plays a small role in the story. ACC Lawson plays a much more prominent role. This is not a problem for me, I just thought I should mention it. However, as far as the series go, I would read this one first because based on other reviews, this one is unavoidably spoiled if you read the second one first. This novel read much more like a standalone book, and it was a very enjoyable one.

See reviews at Goodreads by K. A. Laity and John Grant.


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Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur, 2003
Length:    404 pages
Format:    Hardback
Series:     Karen Pirie #1
Setting:    Scotland
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased this book in 2005.


28 comments:

  1. Pretty sure I read it but boy, it is gone.

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    1. Patti, I cannot believe I had this book for close to 12 years before I read it. But I am glad I finally did.

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  2. I read Out of Bounds with Karen Pirie as the main investigator, and it was good. I plan to read the series, including A Darker Domain which goes back to the 1984 miners' strike.

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    1. Kathy, It was reviews of Out of Bounds that encouraged me to read this one. I had not realized that there was a connection. I am looking forward to A Darker Domain also, because of the connection with the miner's strike.

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  3. Tracy, the lives of the four men twenty-five years later would be a story or study in itself, and interesting to read.

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    1. You are right, Prashant, that is the beauty of the book, that you have two stories that blend and are equally interesting.

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  4. I've read quite a few of Val McDermid's books and enjoyed them all. The only thing is that sometimes her descriptions of crimes, especially sex crimes, are too graphic for me. But the stories and settings are great.

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    1. I could not read the Tony Hill series after the first one, Joan. The scenes of torture were too graphic for me. But I enjoyed her writing in that book so I am glad I tried this series.

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  5. Very glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy. I think Val McDermid is a very talented writer, and I'm not surprised you found yourself drawn into the story, even though you had a sense of what was coming.

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    1. That definitely did not ruin the story, Margot, and Istill wanted to know why and how, etc. The story had a good pace too.

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  6. Despite the fact that she is a local author for me I've only ever read her recent rewrite of Northanger Abbey. Someone told me her books are very gory and I think that put me off, but maybe I should give this one a go.

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    1. This one is definitely not gory, Katrina, and I think the rest of this series is not that way either. The Tony Hill series was too much for me, but those are well written also. There are two earlier series but I have not tried those books yet. And I have not tried any of the standalone books.

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  7. I agree about too much violence in the Tony Hill series and that's why I avoid those books.

    However, I like the Karen Pirie series and some stand-alones. I also read some other books by Val McDermid.

    But I enjoy every talk I've seen her give which is posted online and her articles. And I think she is a real force in British crime fiction and a terrific woman.

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    1. I don't think I have read many of her articles, Kathy, I will have to look online more for some of them. I will be trying more of her books too.

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  8. Not sure if I have this one or not, from the date of publication I'd guess yes. She's an author with a sizeable presence in the collection, but someone I've ignored for a few years now. There always seems to be something else to read that appeals just a little bit more. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. With so many books in the collection, it is easy to do that, Col. Lucky for me, I picked this one at the right time.

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  9. I remember trying to read this one but never finished. I enjoyed a previous title from her and been meaning to read more of her work. Thanks for the review, Tracy. --K.

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    1. This one does start a bit slow, Keishon, but I liked the story going back and forth between the four boys and the police. I haven't read much by McDermid and I liked one and could not take the other one.

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  10. Oh no, I can't read this sort of stuff at all. McDermid is one of the worst. Sorry, but she creeps me out big time.

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    1. There are some authors I avoid because of the perceived creepiness factor, although until I try them I won't know. But this book did not bother me that way. I do stay away from the Tony Hill series though, in the books and the TV series too.

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  11. I read this before, but I want to revisit it as I would see it differently I am sure. I like the dark of it. I am currently reading Fire In The Mind by Arjay Lewis at the moment, it's got the paranormal and the mystery so it covers all my genres in one book and it's fantastic!

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    1. Ali, that book by Lewis sounds interesting. I do like crossover books that mix mystery and other genres.

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  12. Val McDermid seems like a lovely person, she works hard for crime fiction in all its forms, and is very funny and knowledgeable when she is interviewed - she seems marvellous all-round. That said, I wish I liked her books more. this one I really didn't enjoy: I thought it was slow-moving and obvious and dull. Oh dear, perhaps I need to try another one..

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    1. From what I have read, Moira, the other books in the Karen Pirie series are different, although still about cold cases. At least they feature that character more. I did like this one a lot, although I agree it was obvious in many ways. I did not even mind the length or the slowness, and liked it better days after than when I first finished it.

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  13. Thanks for pointing this out to me. I got it right away from the library and enjoyed it. I find Val can be hit or miss with me, and this one's a definite hit. Even though I clicked on the killer fairly early on, it was interesting to watch him play everyone.

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    1. I am glad you enjoyed it, Susan. Now I want to find and read the 2nd one, and I have too many books already.

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  14. Never read her books, but this sounds like it may be a good place to start.

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    1. Definitely, Ryan, this is a good place to start reading Val McDermid. I have not tried any of her earlier novels, but her most well-known series is just too, too graphically violent and tense for me.

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