Still Life by Val McDermid

‘Their first catch of the day was a drowned man.’

One freezing winter’s morning, fishermen pull a body from the Firth of Forth.  The body belongs to a man who was the prime suspect in a case, ten years earlier, when a prominent civil servant went missing.  DCI Karen Pirie, of Police Scotland’s Historic Cases Unit, was the last detective to review that case, and is asked to investigate.  There is another case DCI Pirie is working on: a skeleton had been found in a campervan, by a woman clearing her sister’s home after the sister died – who does it belong to, and how did they die?  And, at the same time, the person responsible for the death of the man Karen loved has just been released from prison.  How will Karen react?  How will she navigate the personal issues to manage the professional ones?

Both cases are intriguing.  There is a political angle associated with the body retrieved from the sea: the missing civil servant has never been found, and the man whose body has been found has an interesting past.  It soon becomes clear that he was murdered.  But by whom, and why?

The answers in both cases lead Karen and her team (DC Jason Murray and DS Daisy Mortimer, who is co-opted) through a complicated web of secret identities, missing people, and art forgeries.  The more the team digs, the more complex the cases seem to become.  But Karen sees something, which, while it takes her a while to realise its significance, enables her to find answers.

A tightly plotted, gripping read.  While I have read and enjoyed many of Ms McDermid’s novels, this is my first novel in the DCI Karen Pirie series.  As this is the sixth novel in the series, I have at least five other great reads to look forward to.

Highly recommended.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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