The brief prologue of Val McDermid’s newest book describes the brutal murder in Crete of a man whose throat is cut, the first of many killings, both old and new, described in this fascinating novel. The second one becomes evident when a skeleton is found on the roof of a building in Edinburgh that was about to be demolished. The case is assigned to DCI Karen Pirie and her second-in-command, DC Jason Murray, of the Historic Cases Unit (as cold cases in Police Scotland are called), aided by Karen’s best friend, Dr. River Wilde, forensic anthropologist “the nearest thing Karen had to a best friend. Cursed by her hippie parents with a name nobody could take seriously, River had worked harder and smarter than any of her colleagues to earn respect beyond dispute. We are soon introduced to Professor Maggie Blake, self-described geography professor at Oxford, turning 50 as the book opens and a distinguished academic, prolific author, beloved tutor and efficient snapper-up of research grants.” Maggie is still trying to get past the fact that her significant other, a man she’d met in Dubrovnik in 1991 when he was 32, a retired Croatian general who was a NATO security advisor in Bosnia and a UN monitor in Kosovo, had gone of the grid and disappeared from her life eight years ago. She too has a best friend, Tessa Minogue, a lawyer “who dealt in the thorny moral dilemmas of human rights,” involved in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
The book’s over-riding theme is that the world was more complex than it was comfortable to admit, as this book makes clear in its own complexities. There is much here about the massacres in the Balkans in the later years of the 20th century. Maggie has written a book about the consequences of the siege of Dubrovnik, but is now working on the story of “how she came to be there [and] the convoluted journey that had led her to Kosovo with its massacres and rape camps.” Interspersed through the tale are chapters of that work-in-progress. There are ongoing investigations of eleven instances of ICTFY targets being assassinated in what is believed to be someone’s idea of vigilante justice, and all of the investigations of these murders, old or current, converge in a fascinating plot with great historical detail, leading up to a suspenseful and jaw-dropping denouement, and one which is recommended....Continua