Book review: Still Life by Val McDermid

Sunday, August 23, 2020 Permalink

It’s great to see DCI Karen Pirie and her cold case underling DC Jason Murray back again in Still Life, the sixth in the series by Val McDermid.

Here Pirie’s Historic Case Unit team (of two) is paired with an inexperienced crime squad in Fife when a new murder has ties to a past crime.

I particularly enjoyed the introduction of DS Daisy Mortimer from the crime squad. She’s keen to learn and I appreciated the honest ‘we’re-in-over-our-heads-and-happy-for-help’ approach with which McDermid portrays her and her boss Charlie. Rather than any petty rivalry cos that bastard-ry and competitiveness between cops can get a bit old.

Book review: Still Life by Val McDermidStill Life
by Val McDermid
Series: Karen Pirie, Inspector Karen Pirie
on 25/08/2020
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Crime Fiction, Police Procedural
ISBN: 1408712296
Pages: 448

On a freezing winter morning, fishermen pull a body from the sea. It is quickly discovered that the dead man was the prime suspect in a decade-old investigation, when a prominent civil servant disappeared without trace.

DCI Karen Pirie was the last detective to review the file and is drawn into a sinister world of betrayal and dark secrets.

But Karen is already grappling with another case, one with even more questions and fewer answers. A skeleton has been discovered in an abandoned campervan and all clues point to a killer who never faced justice - a killer who is still out there.

In her search for the truth, Karen uncovers a network of lies that has gone unchallenged for years. But lies and secrets can turn deadly when someone is determined to keep them hidden for good....

I’d forgotten about Pirie’s recent relationship but when the the book opens she’s still grappling with her newfound feelings for Hamish, as her former partner Phil and his death, are still playing on her mind. It reminded me of Karin Slaughter’s most recent book, The Silent Wife, and that sense that her lead Sara Linton struggles to not compare her feelings for her dead husband with those for her new love.

As a complete aside, this is the first book I’ve read that’s referenced the coronavirus pandemic. McDermid would have written most of this pre-Covid so it was interesting (initially) to have the characters travel… to France and later to Ireland.

However, I wondered if it was slipped in a little later—because this IS set in February 2020—there is reference to the ‘virus in China’ when a friend suggests Pirie stock up on masks and gloves. And of course, by the time this book ends lockdown is coming into place. Things were wrapped up by that point so I’m intrigued whether McDermid had to change the ending to reflect that.

Interestingly McDermid touches on other topical issues as the Scottish police wonder how much support they’ll get from the French police post-Brexit. And the former case references Scotland’s vote for Independence. I know McDermid was in Australia late last year and spent some time in New Zealand (to whom she dedicates the book) so appreciated the not-overdone Aussie digital forensics expert, as well as the casual mention of a Marian Keyes novel and the TV show Derry Girls (a fave of mine!)

I’ve talked before about disliking the merging of two disparate cases in crime fiction but noted that it wasn’t a problem in McDermid’s recent books and it’s the same here. She easily balances both cases (pace and plot-wise) and keeps us interested in both, deftly using Jason and newcomer Daisy (who I hope is here to stay) to support Pirie.

This is another great instalment in this series and McDermid keeps things interesting by ensuring the events of her novels reflect contemporary culture and adds in some challenges to keep her characters on their toes.

Still Life by Val McDermid will be published in Australia by Hachette and available from 25 August 2020.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.


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