The Distant Echo (Inspector Karen Pirie #1) by @valmcdermid #ScottishCrime #FridayReads

Author: Val McDermid

Originally Published: October 2003 by St Martin’s Minotaur

Category: Scottish Crime Fiction, Suspense, Book Review

It was a winter morning in 1978, that the body of a young barmaid was discovered in the snow banks of a Scottish cemetery. The only suspects in her brutal murder were the four young men who found her: Alex Gilbey and his three best friends. With no evidence but her blood on their hands, no one was ever charged.

I can’t believe it’s taken me up until now to read a Van McDermid novel, but I could be on a roll now if this book is anything to go by.

Rather than using flashbacks, the first half of The Distant Echo focusses exclusively on the past and the four students from St Andrews University: best friends Sigmund Malkiewicz (Ziggy), Alex Gilbey (Gilly), Davey Kerr (Mondo) and Tom Mackie (Weird). Staggering back to their halls of residence via a short cut though the Pictish cemetery, in the depths of a snowy winter’s night, post party and worse for wear, they stumble across the body of Rosie Duff, the young barmaid from the pub they frequent. She has been raped, stabbed and left to die.

Ziggy is training to be a doctor, so he tries to help the dying girl as Alex rushes off in the hopes of finding help. Suspicion falls on the four friends but all evidence is circumstantial and the boys are not convicted of any crime. Regardless, their lives are turned upside down, with police interrogations, trial by public opinion and Rosie’s two brothers, not to mention the media coverage, all of which results in two near misses and another tragedy.

He knew he couldn’t afford just to sit there and do nothing. His body was going to stiffen, his joints cramp if he didn’t keep moving. He’d die of exposure in these temperatures if he couldn’t keep his circulation going, and he wasn’t about to give those barbaric bastards the satisfaction. He had to get his hands free.

Twenty five years later and the Fife Police Department have instigated a cold case review of unsolved murders, inclusive of that of Rosie Duff. A small team of officers have been assembled, including DC Karen Pirie who is charged with trying to locate some missing evidence relevant to the Rosie Duff case. Reopening the case also rekindles bad memories and new fears when one of Alex’s friends dies in suspicious circumstances and then a second in a seemingly thwarted burglary. Alex doesn’t believe they are random attacks and realises he must act before there are any more deaths. 

I enjoyed the way Val McDermid crafted the story and worked the threads together seamlessly. It shows clearly how being in the wrong place at the wrong time could affect someone’s life in the longterm. Mud sticks regardless, even though the four were never officially suspects. They all became successful in their chosen careers, but the memories never faded. 

The Distant Echo is a tale of murder, revenge and its far reaching consequences, with a tight plot and great writing. The behaviour of the four protagonists seems very true to life, how it affects each of them in different ways, and this insightful and sensitive characterisation is a great part of the story. I didn’t guess the perpetrator despite, in hindsight, realising the clues were there.

Book links ~ Amazon UK | Amazon US

Val McDermid is a No. 1 bestseller whose novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies.

She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award.

She writes full time and divides her time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.

Author links ~ Website | Facebook | Twitter   

13 thoughts on “The Distant Echo (Inspector Karen Pirie #1) by @valmcdermid #ScottishCrime #FridayReads

  1. I’ve read Val McDermid before and appreciate her writing. This title has been on my TBR for a while now. This cover is probably the most striking I’ve seen. Beautiful! I enjoyed reading your review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I do like this Karen Pirie series – one of her best, I think. I used to like her Tony Hill books but I got kinda fed up with the series after a bit, so I’m glad she’s been doing other stuff too recently. She has a huge back catalogue, so you’ve got plenty more to look forward to! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I also read and enjoyed this, though I think the first half set in the 1970s was more evocative than the cold case review that followed.

    I thought your review was very apt especially The behaviour of the four protagonists seems very true to life.

    The thing that winds me up in fiction is not the situations people find themselves in but the way they behave. If I start thinking “nobody would do that” I rarely finish the book.

    Liked by 1 person

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