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Book review: <i>A Place Of Execution</i> by Val McDermid

I do like Val McDermid. Maybe it’s because her books have that lurid thriller front cover vibe but manage to be a cut above most of the others. Maybe it’s because her main characters avoid stereotyping by being lovably dysfunctional and uptightly British at the same time. Maybe it’s because she just writes a bang up yarn. And A Place Of Execution is a little different from her Tony Hill and Kate Brannigan novels, but still good.

The story

It’s the winter of 1963, it’s bitterly cold in the tiny hamlet of Scardale, and Allison Carter hasn’t come home yet. Detective Inspector George Bennett, not yet 30 and new to the position and the small town of Buxton, decides to ride along to the enquiry... it was no weather for a 13 year old girl to be out past dark. And the people of Scardale... they aren’t overly forthcoming with information. George Bennett takes the case to heart. With the help of fellow officer Tommy Clough, the two of them just don’t let up. Badgering the village people, investigating, and slowly but surely a case comes to light. Fastforward to 1998. Reporter Catherine Heathcote meets George Bennett’s son, and manages to convince George out of thirty five years silence to tell his story and the story of Allison Carter. However, it seems the case is far from closed, when a devastating secret is uncovered and threatens to destroy a whole collection of people.

The style

Val McDermid is a good writer; she manages to be gory without being sensational about it. The dry Britishness shines through, and her characters don’t engage in pages of badly written gratuitous sex, for which I am grateful. One of the things I appreciated about this story in particular was the fact that while the majority of it was set in the sixties, she mentioned some of the epitomous music of the period and then left it. We didn’t have to have a nauseating reminiscence, so that was pleasant. George Bennett was a likeable character, with all the right motivations and emotions. Furthermore, I liked the slightly different style of the book in general—it was divided into two books: the first was the book by Catherine Heathcote and the second was the story of Catherine Heathcote’s writing of the book in 1998. So it was all quite interwoven and well done. Some of the interaction between George and his wife was a bit drippy, but hey, they were those sort of people.

Who is this book for?

This isn’t a heavy intellectual tome, but if you want to read some crime fiction and don’t want to be bothered with terrible writing and gratuitous sex, give this one a go. It’s well written, good story, excellent representation of the genre... need I say more?

If you like this book, you would also like...

Val McDermid has written other books. Quite a few actually. And I’ve read several and enjoyed them as really decent thrillers/crime novels/detective stories. You may also like Ian Rankin for some more British crime. And if you want to experience other decent crime, try Henning Mankel, Michael Dibdin, Janwillem Van de Wetering, or Barry Maitland—all non-American crime/detective fiction authors who aren’t disgracefully bad, and James Ellroy for a great American crime writer.

In short

Title: A Place Of Execution
Author: Val McDermid
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 0140288562
Year published: 1999
Pages: 459
Genre(s): Crime fiction
Review Type: