Val McDermid

"A Darker Domain"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky JAN 27, 2009)

"I grew up in Newton of Wemyss. My dad was a miner. Before the strike, he worked down the Lady Charlotte. You'll mind what folk used to say around here—that nobody was more militant than the Lady Charlotte pitmen. Even so, there was one night in December, nine months into the strike, when half a dozen of them disappeared."

In Val McDermid's A Darker Domain, two seemingly unrelated cases converge with explosive results. One involves the disappearance of a miner named Mick Prentice, who vanished from Newton of Wemyss in 1984. Twenty-two and a half years pass, and his daughter, Misha, visits the Fife Constabulary in Scotland to report him missing. Detective Inspector Karen Pirie and Detective Sergeant Phil Parhatka learn that besides Misha, Mick also left his wife, Jennie, at a time when coal miners were on strike and their families were struggling to put food on the table. Did Mick join the other miners who became scabs and then lay low to avoid the consequences of his actions? Or was he killed and buried by an enemy who bore a grudge against him? Karen and Phil interview Mick's wife and former acquaintances; the picture that emerges is that of a troubled, complex, and secretive man.

The other puzzle is the whereabouts of Adam, the kidnapped grandchild of Sir Broderick Maclennan Grant, one of Scotland's wealthiest and most successful businessmen. Annabel Richmond, an ambitious freelance journalist, stumbles across fresh evidence and talks her way into Sir Broderick's presence. He hires her to follow a convoluted trail that he hopes will reunite him with Adam, whom he hasn't seen for over twenty years. Bel agrees to keep the story out of the press until she has enough material for an article or even a book that, she hopes, will supercharge her career.

McDermid has long been known as a superb storyteller and she is in top form here. Her heritage as the granddaughter of coal miners inspired her to write poignantly about the tragic strike of 1984 that brought so much suffering to the mining community. The author's use of colorful Scottish vernacular and her knowledge of her country's landscape, history, and culture lend depth and texture to the story. She skillfully moves back and forth in time, gradually revealing the connection between past and present events. Her characters are superbly drawn, especially the protagonist, Karen Pirie. DI Pirie may be sensitive about her ample figure but she is justifiably proud of her professional abilities. Karen is an excellent detective who dares to speak irreverently to her boss, Assistant Chief Constable Simon Lees, whose directives she often ignores. However, even the long-suffering Lees acknowledges that Karen is highly competent, meticulous, and has excellent instincts. In addition, her tenacity would make a bulldog envious.

The tantalizing plot is cleverly constructed and the subtle clues that are sprinkled throughout the narrative keep us guessing. The author has quite a few surprises in store as she explores the myriad ways in which men and women sow the seeds of their own destruction. As Sir Walter Scott wrote, "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." McDermid would certainly agree with her famous countryman. A Darker Domain is an engrossing and satisfying novel, one of the author's best yet.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 72 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to

Lindsay Gordon Mysteries

Kate Brannigan Mysteries

Dr. Tony Hill & Carol Jordan Mysteries



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About the Author:

Val McDermidVal McDermid grew up in a Scottish mining community and read English at St. Hilda's College in Oxford. She was a journalist for sixteen years and is now a full-time writer, though she did not publish her first novel until 1987.

In 1995 she won the Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year. Her novel A Place of Execution won a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, won the Anthony, Macavity, and Dilys awards for best novel, and was a finalist for the Edgar Award.

She divides her time between South Manchester and Northumberland. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014