Out of Bounds (Karen Pirie 4) by Val McDermid

Murder in the family…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

out of boundsWhen some drunken lads steal a Land Rover and then crash it, a blood sample is taken from the driver and routinely checked for DNA matches. The results show a familial match to the perpetrator of a horrific unsolved rape and murder from 1996, so DCI Karen Pirie and her cold case team, consisting of herself and one DC, reopen the case. However it becomes more complicated when they discover the car crash victim was adopted, so they will have to seek the Court’s permission to access his birth records. Meantime, a young man called Gabriel Abbott is found dead from a gunshot wound in a park, a death that the investigating officer is eager to call suicide and close the case. Karen’s not so sure, and when she discovers that Gabriel’s mother was herself murdered over 20 years earlier, she finds herself drawn to try to solve the older case and see if it impacted in any way on Gabriel’s death.

I really like this new series of McDermid’s. She has always been one of my favourite crime writers, but I tired eventually of the Tony Hill series, so I’m delighted she’s gone off in a new direction. These books are strictly police procedurals, told in a straightforward linear fashion with no flashy gimmicks or unbelievable twists. I’ve only read one other in the series, The Skeleton Road, which had a plot-line that took us back to the Serbo-Croatian war and was as much about the horrors of that as about the crime under investigation. While I enjoyed it very much, in truth I prefer to get my history from history books, so preferred this one which is more traditional in style – a crime or crimes, suspects, motives, clues, red herrings, etc., but all set firmly in the present and with a totally authentic feel to the investigation.

Karen Pirie is an excellent character, perhaps my favourite of all the various lead characters McDermid has created over the years. She is refreshingly non-maverick, working within the rules and procedures of contemporary policing, and getting on with her colleagues on the whole. Somewhat tediously, she has the usual useless boss who’s always trying to do her down, but she gets round him with a combination of wit and manipulation, instead of the rather unbelievable outright defiance and belligerence that so many fictional detectives seem able to get away with. She thinks her young assistant Jason is “thick”, but is nevertheless a good, supportive boss to him, and during the course of this book, as he matures into the role, she finds she’s beginning to appreciate him more. And again unlike many of the loner detectives of today, she has a few good friends and a normal social life outside work.

In this book she is still grieving after the events at the end of the last one. (I’m leaving that deliberately vague to avoid spoilers – the books work perfectly as standalones and don’t have much of a continuing story arc, but like most series they’re probably best read in order.) But her grief is shown believably, without wallowing. It recurs from time to time but lessens as time goes on, and Karen handles it without taking to drink or beating people up or all the other things our dysfunctional detectives usually do.

Val McDermid
Val McDermid

There’s also a strand in the book about some of the Syrian refugees who have come to Scotland fleeing from the horrors in their own country. McDermid handles this very well, showing them not as potential terrorists, rapists, murderers or religious fanatics, but as normal people who have seen and experienced terrible things, but survived, and who now want to find a way to build new lives for themselves and their families in a safer place.

The plotting is great, with enough complexity to keep the reader guessing but without ever straying far over the credibility line. Although there are two separate cases on the go, McDermid juggles them well, never letting one be forgotten at the expense of the other. And personally, I’m delighted to see her set a series in her native Scotland. She doesn’t shine a light on the political zeitgeist in quite the way Rankin often does, but she creates a clear and authentic picture of contemporary Scotland, particularly with regards to policing and justice systems.

All-in-all, an excellent read which I highly recommend. I’m hoping this series will have a long run.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Little, Brown Book Group.

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64 thoughts on “Out of Bounds (Karen Pirie 4) by Val McDermid

  1. Gosh, this sounds like a perfect, by-the-book… erm… book! Almost – dare I say it – a little tediously so. It is nice to hear that the usual detective stereotypes are omitted – everyone must be so bored with alcoholic, borderline-criminal cops 🙂 This is a lovely review, FF, but I won’t be investigating this one any further. Besides, Amazon tells me that the Horowitz has been dispatched… 😀

    • Thank you, and thanks for popping in and commenting! I’ve been reading her books on and off for years, and like some of her series more than others. I do like this one – the more traditional style works well because she’s such a good plotter. 🙂

      • I love a well plotted mystery! Sharon Bolton writes fantastic books and I’m currently reading The Trespasser by Tana French which is so good. Any other well-written mysteries that you’d recommend?

        • I love Sharon Bolton – she’s one of my top favourites! I’ve only read one Tana French and wasn’t quite as thrilled by her as many other people have been, but that was her first book so I really want to try one of her later ones. Have you read Jane Casey or Belinda Bauer? I always lump them together with Sharon Bolton as my three contemporary Queens of Crime, and I’ve noticed most people who like one of them seem to like them all…

          • For me, Tana French’s Broken Harbor was excellent, but I wanted to throw In the Woods across the room due to the ending. But I’m really liking The Trespasser so far so we’ll see. I haven’t read Jane Casey or Belinda Bauer so I’m very excited to try them since you put them in with Sharon Bolton!! Which titles would you recommend I start with by each? Thanks so much for suggesting those:)

            • Yes, it was In the Woods that I read, and apart from the ending I just though it was so over-padded. But I’ve heard lots of people rave about her later books so I’ll stick with her for at least another one.

              Jane Casey’s books are a series about a young detective called Maeve Kerrigan, and they’re best read in order. The first one is The Burning which is very good but it’s another series that keeps getting better as it goes along.

              Belinda Bauer tends to write standalones – I loved Rubbernecker – she always uses a lot of really black humour, especially in this one.

              If you do get a chance to read either of them, I hope you enjoy them! 😀

  2. I like McDermid’s writing very much, too, FictionFan. And I always respect it when an author tries a new direction. It’s very good to hear this one is a more straightforward police procedural, too; I do like that sort of story structure. Sounds as though it ticked your boxes, and that’s terrific.

    • I always like the police procedural structure, especially when it feels authentic as this does. She’s such a good writer and plotter – I fell away from her a bit with the Tony Hill series, not because I thought they’d stopped being good, but just because I’m a bit tired of the serial killer thing, so I’m really pleased she’s doing something new! 🙂

  3. The first in this series, The Distant Echo, is one of my favorite crime novels of all time. I’ve read other McDermids but no more in this series and I can’t think why — except that I’m not much of a series reader! I ought to see if I have #2, A Darker Domain . . .

    • I haven’t read those two yet – I’d stopped following McDermid so religiously because I got bored with the Tony Hill books, and missed that she’d started something new. Must backtrack – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both The Skeleton Road and this one…

      • I’ve just discovered that indeed I have read #2 in the series — the blurb I came across was completely misleading as to the focus of the book — but for some reason didn’t note it on GoodReads. So I guess I should hunt out The Skeleton Road.

        • Having just read your review of The Distant Echo I’m thinking it sounds familiar. I think perhaps I may have read it back when it came out after all – however my memory of it is so vague that even if I have read it before, a re-read wouldn’t go amiss…

            • I don’t think I’ve read these two either – but that doesn’t mean I don’t have them somewhere, either in the house or on Kindle. Let’s hope it’s on Kindle, it’ll be easier to find! Lol! Yes I got totally scunnered with Tony Hill and the mutilated females. I’d thought A Darker Domain was one of his – hurrah if it’s one of Karen Pirie’s, as I do have it, it being one of the last four in the McIlvanney Prize (I think?) Do correct me if I’m wrong.

            • Haha! Yes, I can never find actual books amidst the heaps either – hurrah for the Kindle! I had to check, but it seems it’s actually Splinter the Silence that got shortlisted, and it’s another Tony Hill book. Pity – I’d have rather it was this one, but maybe it’ll be in the running next year.

            • You’re right, it is Splinter The Silence! Damn! It must be a good Tony Hill to make the shortlist…. but I still have feelings of, meh, whatever! I do have that one, and I bought Out Of Bounds there to get it signed – her 30th book, they kept reminding us! The first book of hers that made me think, “Wow! she is something special,” was A Place Of Execution. Mr C doesn’t read crime, but I got him to watch the TV adaptation when it was repeated recently and he was blown away by the final reveal. I have to have my books in piles – I’d lived in a nice cottage, but it was in the middle of nowhere, and I moved in with Mr C who had an attic flat in town, with not enough height for my bookshelves. Now we’re in a tenement, but as we’re hoping to move back to Glasgow soon, we don’t want to buy bookshelves as the move will be more expensive. So they’re in boxes, crates, and a few I’ve managed to keep out in piles. I can’t wait to find a nice furnished flat with lots and lots of bookshelves! By the way, next year is the 30th year of Rebus! I hadn’t updated my NetGalley profile so got refused for a copy – I bet you got one, you jammy sod! I’ve resigned myself to Fox being around, and it’s great Big Ger’s back. This new one sounds ACE! BTW, you really should do crime reviews for The Scotsman or The Herald – it seems to be down to who you know, though…

            • I’ve been reading her on and off for most of those thirty books – in fact, I’m surprised that’s all it is – I’d have guessed more. But I haven’t read the last three or four Tony Hills and don’t think I will. Ha! I have bookshelves but still have piles of books all over the place – what I need is a custom built library in the garden! Hope you get your ideal flat soon. 🙂

              No, I haven’t been given the Rankin either though as far as I know I haven’t been declined either – my request is just sitting there. I’ll be most peeved if I can’t get my hands on a copy somehow though! Haha! Thank you – I’d love to review for the papers (or anyone else who’d pay me to do it, in fact!) but I suspect I’m too opinionated… they tend to like neutralish reviews.

  4. Looking forward to this one. I agree with you that a sane police person makes a welcome change from angst-ridden sociopaths – they always remind me of the old joke about intelligence tests – if you pass, they don’t let you in.
    I wish she’d write another Lindsay Gordon, I always had a soft spot for those.

    • Haha! Yes! I often feel like writing a disciplinary policy for their poor bosses! Karen Pirie is interesting enough as a character to carry the books without becoming the sole focus – the plot’s the thing! Which is as it should be, in my opinion! 😉 Yes, I liked those ones too – in fact, I’ve liked most of her stuff, except for a couple of the standalones and the later Tony Hills.

  5. This one sounds really good, FF. I love that she’s not a clone of someone like Jane Tennison (whom I did like in her series, but who had some messy drama in her personal life). I love a good police procedural.

    • It’s just my kind of thing! I love police procedurals too so long as I can believe in the detective and it doesn’t stray too far over the credibility line, and McDermid always comes up with interesting plots too. Worth checking out, if you ever get the time… 🙂

  6. I must say, this one sounds intriguing. I rather like the idea of a real police procedural without all the angst and conflicted heroes. And thank you for not spoiling the ending of the previous book — you’ve really got this review-writing-thing down pat!!

    • Thanks, Debbie! 🙂 I like a straightforward police procedural, with the emphasis on the plot rather than on the detective’s messed up life. There’s enough about Karen in this one to make her interesting but the main focus is on the crimes. Good stuff!

  7. Phew this is already on my TBR so I don’t have to add it although because this is the first in the series I’ve got… It sounds good, I’m far more into straightforward crime fiction at the moment and when there are echoes from the past… well I think I’ll enjoy this when it manages to rise to somewhere near the top of the TBR mountain.

    • Yes, this is the problem! You should get back to reading lots of present tense misery-fests and then I wouldn’t be so tempted! 😉 I do think you’ll enjoy this though – it’s got an interesting plot and she’s very strong on characterisation. And you’ll be delighted to hear there’s only the tiniest bit of dialect in it, and nothing difficult…

    • Thanks, Angela! 🙂 I liked the early Tony Hill books though they were always a bit too graphic for my taste. And I loved the Brannigans too. She’s always been good at creating new series when the old ones begin to stale, and this one’s really good. Enjoy!

  8. Ive never read any Val McDermid but whenever I see her interviewed she’s really engaging so I really want to give her a try. This could be the one – I like a police procedural and hooray for a well-adjusted officer who can solve things without going rogue!

    • She’s one of the few crime writers who branches off into a new series every few years and they’re all pretty different from each other. This is shaping up to be my favourite – I like Karen Pirie as a character a lot. She’s normal without being boring. Well worth giving McDermid a try – she rarely disappoints…

  9. This does sound like a detective novel I could get behind! I’m especially interested in the refugee subplot/portion of the book. I’m so tired of hearing about refugees being criminals. If someone blew up Indiana and people in Michigan wouldn’t take me in…I mean, I can’t imagine a scenario like that.

    • Yes, when the Syrians appeared my first thought was oh, no, here we go again, so I was delighted that she treated them as “normal” people (whatever that is!). I know – we forget that we’re lucky here in the West. Our problems are insignificant compared to other parts of the world.

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