Out of Bounds | Val McDermid | 2016, Pb 2017 | Little, Brown | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book
When a teenage joyrider crashes the car he’s stolen, killing his three friends who’d come along for the ride and putting himself in a coma, it opens long closed doors for DCI Karen Pirie, head of Police Scotland’s Historic Crimes Unit. DNA hints of a possible solution to the unsolved murder, 22 years before, of a young woman who’d been raped and strangled in Glasgow city centre. But even though the crime took place so many years ago, tensions are still high and the DNA brings with it more questions than it does answers.
But Karen also has her eye on another case. A man has been found dead on a park bench, a gun in his hand and a bullet in his head. While debate rages over whether this is murder or suicide, Karen is intrigued to learn that the man’s mother was murdered years ago in an unclaimed terrorist attack. Does murder run in families? One thing’s for certain – DCI Karen Pirie has never believed in coincidences.
Out of Bounds is the fourth novel to feature DCI Karen Pirie and the fact that I haven’t read the others didn’t matter at all. Karen carries her past with her and the reasons for that are obvious from the opening pages. I felt instantly involved with her, warming to her fragile resilience, her toughness and sharp intelligence. Karen has a battle on her hands with her superiors – we’re left in no doubt about how much they resent her, even envy her – but she handles them beautifully. Her sparring is a joy to watch. But I particularly liked Karen for her care of her assistant, DC Jason ‘the Mint’ Murray. This young man has more flaws than is good for him but his heart is most definitely in the right place and, although he worships Karen like a puppy loves its master, Karen genuinely looks after him. Karen’s caring side is evident in other ways, too, and she makes sure she acts on it, practically, even though it is often difficult.
Out of Bounds is a meticulously detailed depiction of two difficult police investigations. Karen and Jason don’t spend their time in hot pursuit, instead they show us the dogged determination that is so necessary in their job. No stone is too small to be left unturned. The pieces of the puzzle come together only slowly and we are shown every step of the process. It is fascinating and certainly feels authentic. There is tension and drama – Karen is prodding a hornet’s nest – but the focus throughout is on strong storytelling and wonderfully drawn characters. Some characters we meet only fleetingly but each is rewarded with a personality that hints at much more waiting to be uncovered.
At the heart of this cleverly plotted and expertly written novel is Karen Pirie and we spend time with her both on and off duty, getting to know her well. But in the background lies Val McDermid’s rich and involved portrait of Scotland. Out of Bounds might be the first Val McDermid novel I’ve read but it certainly won’t be the last.