My reading mojo has been largely restored courtesy of two fine British authors, Eva Dolan and Val McDermid.
Eva Dolan After You Die (Vintage 2016)
After You Die is the third novel in Dolan’s ‘DI Zigic and DS Ferreira’ series. Like its predecessors, it’s a skilfully crafted police procedural set in Peterborough, and features a hard-hitting crime: the murder of a woman, Dawn Prentice, and the possible murder of her severely disabled daughter, Holly. Dolan uses the investigation to explore a number of weighty issues, such as hate crimes, internet abuse and right-to-die debates, but does so with a deft touch, so that readers never feel like they’re being lectured. The characterisation of the Hate Crimes team and its suspects is also excellent – there’s lots of beautifully observed, authentic detail that grounds these figures in a recognisable reality. The development of DS Ferreira’s character after the events of the previous novel, Tell No Tales, is particularly good.
If you’re new to this series, you might like to start with the opening novel, Long Way Home, which is a very accomplished debut.
Val McDermid, Out of Bounds (Little Brown, 2016; Whole Story audiobook narrated by Cathleen McCarron)
Out of Bounds is the fourth book in the ‘DCI Karen Pirie’ series, set in Edinburgh and Fife. I haven’t read the others yet, having dived in to this one by chance, but am now very keen to do so (the first is The Distant Echo).
Detective Chief Inspector Pirie, who heads up Police Scotland’s Historic Crimes Unit, is tenacious, resourceful and prepared to bend the rules in the service of justice. Her job is to review cold cases when new evidence comes to light – such as when a teenage joyrider’s DNA profile links to DNA from a young hairdresser’s murder two decades earlier. In a parallel investigation, an odd-looking suicide leads Karen to examine an old murder that was presumed – possibly erroneously – to have been caused by an IRA bomb.
There were two aspects of this novel that I particularly enjoyed. The first was the depiction of a strong Scottish policewoman leading multiple investigations with aplomb – a nice counterpoint to Ian Rankin’s Rebus. While facing plenty of personal and professional challenges, Karen is kept going by a combination of her own determination and the support of close friends. (The emphasis on the importance of friendship reminded me a little of Claudia Piñeiro’s Argentinian crime novel Betty Boo). The second was the plotting masterclass McDermid provided as she moved effortlessly between the developments in the individual cases while maintaining a clear, unified narrative. I remember hearing the author argue, in a debate on crime fiction vs ‘high literature’, that plotting is a skill that is often underestimated and overlooked, and think her point is beautifully made in this novel.
One extra thought: I listened to the audiobook version, expertly narrated by Cathleen McCarron. I think that this added to my enjoyment of the book, because it allowed me to hear and appreciate the novel’s Scottish inflections and turns of phrase.
As it happens, Val McDermid is one of the headliners at Iceland Noir 2016, which is taking place right now in Reykjavík (hope you’re all having a great time!). Val gave the convention’s opening address on Thursday evening – as reported here by CrimeFictionLover – in which she rightly asserted that ‘there ain’t no cure for loving crime fiction’.
You can check out Iceland Noir’s programme here and its featured authors here. It’s a great convention and I would thoroughly recommend going. Hope to make it in 2018!
If you’re new to Icelandic crime, here are some earlier Mrs Peabody posts on the subject:
Indriđason’s The Draining Lake
Sigurðardóttir’s Why Did You Lie?
Quentin Bates interview about his ‘Gunnhildur (Gunna) Gísladóttir’ series
Ragnar Jónasson’s ‘Dark Iceland’ series – translation special
Lovely post, Mrs. P., and I couldn’t agree more about Dolan and McDermid. Both are so talented, and guaranteed to bring back anyone’s reading mojo. I agree with you, too, about reading Dolan’s series in order. Not only is it easier that way to get drawn into the characters, but also, those plots are great.
Thanks very much, Margot. We’re lucky to have them! McDermid is obviously a veteran of the scene, but it’s great to see strong new talent emerging as well. Dolan’s debut really stood out for me when I read it a couple of years ago – I hope she does well Stateside too.
I recommend a trip to Iceland, even if you can’t get to the Iceland Noir event!
One of my favourite places! I got to go in 2014 (the second Iceland Noir) and was very taken with Reykjavik – not least as there were bookshops on what practically every corner. The Blue Lagoon was a wonderful experience too, though a quick dash to the towel at the end was imperative.
I do love Val McDermid. Her books are beautifully crafted.
I totally agree, Cathy. I first read her a long time ago (the Jordan/Hill series) and was slightly unsettled by the graphic depictions of violence (justified by McDermid on the grounds that they accurately reflected real violence done to women). But she seems to have eased up a bit in this respect, and I’m really pleased to have discovered the ‘Pirie’ series. Very much looking forward to more.
I read the new Val McDermid earlier in the year and thought it very good: wonderful plotting, excellent characterisation and, as always, a fine sense of place.
I have read the Eve Dolan as they have been published and loved them. The lead characters are most original yet convincing, as are the plots. But what makes them stand out is the sense that this is exactly what Peterborough and the surrounding countryside is like.
As an after thought, how disappointing was the Martha Carney programme on Crime Fiction set in East Anglia – vague generalisations and too much on Nine Tailors (not as claimed a typical Dorothy L Sayers). What about Jim Kelly, Elly Griffiths? To name too of my favourites?
What a feast in Iceland! I have always wanted to go there and to hear such an array of splendid writers..
Hello Maggie – I’m really glad to hear that you enjoyed the McDermid too. You’re right – there’s a great sense of place in the novel. I enjoyed finding out about Scottish policing structures and procedures too. And yes, Dolan’s characterisation is very convincing and grounded. I’ve not yet visited Peterborough, so it’s good to hear that the novels capture the city and area well.
I didn’t catch the Martha Carney programme, but those do sound like two big omissions (I’m a huge fan in particular of Elly Griffiths).
Hope you can be tempted by Iceland Noir 2018. Apparently Jo Nesbo will be there!
Enjoyable post, Mrs P. Thanks! The Eve Dolan sounds particularly good.
Thanks, Christine. I thoroughly recommend Dolan’s novels. She is a seriously good writer.
I have read all three of Eva Dolan’s books and like them very much, especially the two detectives. The stories and politics are excellent, too, especially in the first two books dealing with mistreatment of immigrants.
I also follow Eva Dolan’s Twitter feed. She is so anti-Brexit and her comments are excellent, as are many by commenters.
I did not know about the Karen Pirie series by Val McDermid. Must get into this and hope my library has these books. She is terrific and I must find her talk as linked here. Thanks for that.
I’m reading a terrific book. It’s Tana French’s newest mystery, “The Trespasser.” It gives the feel for life within a police precinct like nothing I’ve ever read. The dialogue is crisp and brilliant. And I have to laugh often. This is one of her best books yet.
So, when the political scene here gets me down, I dive into the book. And have others lined up.
Hello Kathy D – I’ve yet to read the second installment in the Dolan series, so will need to backtrack. The third (unavoidably) gave its ending away, but it’ll be interesting to read with that knowledge (a different kind of reading experience, but one that can be rewarding in its own way).
Thanks for the recommendation of the Tana French novel. Confession: I’ve not read anything by her yet, which I know is a big gap. Good to have a nudge 🙂
Keep those books lined up. I’ve been truly appreciative of the solace and distraction they can offer in the last few months x
Morning Mrs P.
I too am an avid reader of Val McDermid’s books. The Shetland series and the irrasible Vera being my favourite to date. I’ve not come across Karen Pirie before, but will definitely add her to my TBR list, along with Eva Dolan’s Zigic and Ferreria.
I also love Quentin Bates’ Gunnhilda series. They’re brilliant, with some humour thrown in for good measure. Iceland appeals to me after watching the TV series Trapped at the beginning of this year which kept me glued to my telly every Saturday evening. One day perhaps!
Ignore my previous comments about the Shetland and Vera series, although they are excellent. They are of course by Ann Cleeves as we know.
I was having a senior moment 😕 after re-reading Thin Air, and foregoing my brekkie to finish it!
Hello Kathy P – easily done! It just goes to show how many wonderful British women writers we have at the moment. I have a very soft spot for Vera myself 🙂
I’m with you on the ‘Gunna’ series, which I think is seriously underrated. A cracking character and a very interesting perspective on the Icelandic financial crash too.
I have to add the Gunnhilda series to my dvd list.
By the way, Tana French just won the Irish Crime Fiction prize of this year. So well-deserved. Her ear for dialogue is brilliant.
My 3 absolute favourites are McDermid, French & Cleeves. I’ll read anything & everything they write 😀
I am a big fan of Eva Dolan as well, I hope to meet her one day. And I wasn’t at Iceland Noir either, but I’ve seen everyone had a great time there. How could they not? What a wonderful country.
I can recommend – had a wonderful time at Iceland Noir 2014 🙂