In Broken Ground, Val McDermid returns to one of my favourite characters of hers, detective chief inspector Karen Pirie, of the Historic Cases Unit ... The DCI – 'a dumpy wee woman with bad hair and terrible dress sense' who can pull out 'the kind of smile that makes small children whimper and cling to their mother’s legs' – is as intuitive, courageous and grumpy as ever, and McDermid’s plotting is top-notch. There is nothing more gratifying than watching a master craftswoman at work, and she is on fine form here.
The heroine of Val McDermid’s new novel is a wee bit of a crank ... Jessica Fletcher of Cabot Cove, Pirie isn’t ... It’s time that mystery writers noticed Europe’s newest arrivals [the Syrian refugees], whose lives are filled with a degree of suspense none of them ever wanted or deserved. Almost in passing, Broken Ground is revelatory in that regard.
Val McDermid’s Broken Ground opens in 1944 with a couple of men burying something in an isolated area of the Highlands...when the granddaughter of one of the men turns up, clutching a map left behind when he died, she finds something buried far more recently ... McDermid’s novels about cold cases have solid plots and fascinating forensic detail.
...a body wearing 1995 Nikes has been unearthed by treasure hunters looking for WWII loot. While fending off (Pirie) superior’s attempts to sabotage her work, she is also investigating a series of vicious rapes that occurred in the late eighties and has been drawn into a peculiar domestic stabbing. McDermid moves the reader deftly back and forth in time as her dab hand allows the indomitable Pirie to 'bring the dead home.'
Of course all will be revealed—the difference in the doing, McDermid-style, involves developing location, character, and props in perfect proportion ... McDermid, known as 'The Queen of Crime,' doesn't really need her work reviewed again. Her books consistently satisfy, after all. But the reason critics continue to cover her output is due to the fact that those books consistently challenge: The status quo, the patriarchy, complacency, Western ignorance, you name it ... Pirie understands that life is all about balance. Wonderfully, her creator Val McDermid knows that the best mystery novels are, too.
So vivid is the writing, readers will feel the ocean breeze on their skin as the men work. They'll smell the tang of seaweed, and hear the slap and wash of waves against the rocks ... Like all Val McDermid's books, once you begin reading, you will simply not be able to stop ... New readers may trip up on [McDermid's] liberal use of regional idioms, expressions and turns of phrase, but not enough to put the book aside. Her books are interesting, tightly plotted down to the bone, and even educational ... Broken Ground is a splendid read that won't disappoint.
At its core, a fascinating story exists ... As the narrative travels across space and time, it displays McDermid’s laudable efforts to immerse readers in particular locales and eras ... The author creates an atmosphere of authenticity ... The story also lingers lovingly on the bucolic scenery of rural Scotland ... Unfortunately, the above-mentioned pieces are the strongest in an otherwise poorly constructed tower. While McDermid crafts vivid images, her novel falls apart from the first few chapters. Readers are given too many clues, rendering the murder and its motives too obvious ... The characters share the same fate as the plot: The idea and the background are solid, unique, and fascinating, but the execution is lacking ... Much like the dialogue, clichés are so worn that readers are left waiting for punchlines that never materialize ... Broken Ground does just enough to raise up its tower of blocks, but it’s an unstable, rickety construction. Read it for fun on a cold winter night — but don’t be surprised when it all comes tumbling down.
Enter Karen Pirie, cold case detective (because, hey, cases don’t get much colder than this), in the fifth installment of Val McDermid’s popular Karen Pirie series, Broken Ground ... McDermid’s books are relentlessly excellent, with sympathetically flawed characters, well-crafted storylines, a clever twist or two and crisp dialogue. It’s no wonder she is considered the queen of Scottish crime fiction.
There’s a reason readers around the world look forward to a new book by the ‘queen of crime’ and Val McDermid’s legions of fans will not be disappointed with this one. This new police procedural is her fifth crime thriller featuring Edinburgh police cold case detective Karen Pirie, who’s not above putting her faith in the value of her work above the priorities of her superiors ... Though Pirie makes some missteps, mostly with respect to her relations with other police officials, and especially with ACC Markie, McDermid never puts a foot wrong. Her prose is so clear and engaging, this is a book that will keep you turning pages. Like Pirie, you will be hungry for just that one more bit of evidence.
... expertly plotted ... McDermid’s affinity for multilayered plots and complex characters continues to excel in Broken Ground, her 32nd novel ... Police politics and crime investigations soar in Broken Ground, but McDermid’s look at the Highlands during World War II gives a new insight into Scotland’s role during the war.
Scottish author Val McDermid... once again delivers a novel that is tautly wound with just the right mix of mystery, suspense and danger to keep the pages turning long into the evening ... Broken Ground is another terrific thriller from Val McDermid and a fine entry in her engrossing series.
McDermid never takes the obvious path when knotting together a plot, or a lazy shortcut when creating characters ... What lingers are less the central story and sub-plots, exciting and satisfying though they are—it’s the small details and the characters: Karen learning how to live with her grief; The Mint’s efforts to be a better copper; the descriptions of landscapes and weather. These are all reasons why Broken Ground will find a home on my bookshelf, awaiting a re-read—and another, and another.
One of the best things about this series is the details of Karen's working life, the obstacles as well as the satisfactions, and the small pleasures of her off hours. The mystery itself has a stop-start rhythm, but as a novel about the too-consuming work life many of us lead, it's timely and recognizable.