Book reviews: 1979 & 1989 by Val McDermid

Saturday, October 1, 2022 Permalink

For reasons unknown I hadn’t read 1979 by Val McDermid when its sequel, 1989 arrived. I think perhaps I was a bit put-off by any mention of the IRA or money laundering and the like, as political and/or white collar crimes don’t really interest me much. (And no… I’m not sure why.)

However, a lull in new book arrivals meant I wanted to get to 1989 which naturally meant going back in time first. Because I am nothing if not anal about reading things in chronological order.

Book reviews: 1979 & 1989 by Val McDermid1979
by Val McDermid
Series: Allie Burns #1
Published by Sphere
on 10/08/2021
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 9780751583083
Pages: 432

1979. It's the winter of discontent, and Allie Burns is chasing her first big scoop. One of few women in the newsroom, she needs something explosive for the boys' club to take her seriously.

Soon Allie and fellow reporter Danny Sullivan are making powerful enemies with their investigations - and Allie won't stop there. When she discovers a terrorist threat close to home, she devises a dangerous plan to make her name.

But Allie is a woman in a man's world . . . and putting a foot wrong could be fatal.

This book introduces us to young journalist Allie Burns. It’s 1979 (obviously) and McDermid writes this from a place of experience, having been a journalist in Glasgow at the same time. I realise things are still dire for some people but dipping back into the fairly-recent past is a reminder that we have come ‘some’ way and the world isn’t quite as sexist, racist and homophobic as it was then.

Allie’s a talented journalist and writer but tends to draw the short straw and spend more time than she should on soft stories and ‘fixing’ others’ articles. Which is one of the reasons Danny approaches her. He’s stumbled across a story (far too close to home) and needs help with the wordsmithing. Allie likes and respects Danny – one of only a few team members who treats her well. His big break comes at the expense of his own family but gives both him and Allie a taste of investigative journalism and she gets him involved with a story she’s working on (unofficially) about the nationalist / independence movement in Scotland.

Unfortunately they’re a tad naive and I wondered if McDermid could or should have emphasised (more) their role in the story they ultimately reveal.

I didn’t love this read, but suspect it’s more because of the type of crimes / investigations featured. I did enjoy being reminded of that era however and found myself smiling wistfully at the playlist McDermid’s included in the back of the book.

Of course I knew there was already a second instalment in this series and liked Allie so keen to see where McDermid’s taken her a decade on.

Book reviews: 1979 & 1989 by Val McDermid1989
by Val McDermid
Series: Allie Burns #2
on 18/08/2022
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 0751583103
Pages: 416

It's 1989 and Allie Burns is back.

Older and maybe wiser, she's running the northern news operation of the Sunday Globe, chafing at losing her role in investigative journalism and at the descent into the gutter of the UK tabloid media.

But there's plenty to keep her occupied. The year begins with the memorial service to the victims of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, but Allie has barely filed her copy when she stumbles over a story about HIV/AIDS that will shock her into a major change of direction.

The world of newspapers is undergoing a revolution, there's skulduggery in the medical research labs and there are seismic rumblings behind the Iron Curtain. When kidnap and murder are added to this potent mix, Allie is forced to question all her old certainties.

Again this book brought back a lot of memories. And I’m reminded that the more things change the more they stay this same. In the first book the Scots were talking about independence from Britain which was very deja-vuish given I read this just after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. And 1989 centres around media moguls and uncertainty in Europe.

Allie’s moved with partner and fellow journalist Rona to Manchester. We meet Rona in 1979 and learn she’s gay but a tad suspicious of her motives in befriending Allie given the competitive environment in which they worked. As the book opens Allie’s just suffered through (but survived) a heap of redundancies as the owner of her newspaper (Ace Lockhart) takes a cost-cutting axe to his organisations. We learn he’s obsessed with competing against Rupert Murdoch (the Australian-born media giant referred to often).

We also meet Ace’s daughter and heir Genevieve, who’s been groomed to take over her father’s empire but seems to have some empathy and a conscience – of sorts. She’s smart and sent off here to befriend both sides of the moving political feast in Eastern Europe.

Although not given the freedom to pursue her own stories Allie’s looking into trials of HIV / AIDS medication, trials that were aborted in Scotland and moved behind the Iron Curtain.

Allie heads to East Berlin to investigate but becomes embroiled in something bigger. Again she seems inordinately naive and here Rona agrees with me. It brings Allie into contact with her boss’s daughter Genevieve and things become complicated. A bit too complicated, perhaps and the original story is lost.

The plot felt a little scattered here – the introduction of terrorism and plane crashes which isn’t touched on again, the movement of Scottish men with AIDs to England, the pharmaceutical testing and then Genevieve’s exploits in Europe. I was (however) more interested in a murder investigation which plays out quite belatedly and appreciated the way McDermid (Allie) handles it.

I love Val McDermid’s writing and have seen / heard her speak a couple of times and love several of her other series’. My biggest issue with both of these books is that there’s too much happening. They’re overly complicated so my attention is divided and ultimately I disengage.

Having said that, I’m assuming there’ll be more in this series and I’ll read them. I like Allie and Rona (who plays more of a role here). I like where I think McDermid is going to take Allie and I hope those cases will be more to my taste.

1979 & 1989 by Val McDermid were both published by Hachette and now available.

I received copies of these books from the publisher for review purposes. 


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