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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Darker Domain shows McDermid has form

It would be a crime for Anne Marie Scanlon, if crime writer Val McDermid failed to deliver

Anne Marie Scanlon

Published 02/11/2008 | 00:00

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A Darker Domain

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Val McDermid

HarperCollins, €26.40

YOU wouldn't think that there's a downside to being a talented, successful and imaginative writer with a dedicated and loyal fan base. But there is, and it's called expectation.

Inevitably, you are going to write something which will disappoint even the most steadfast of your fans. I was reluctant to review Val Mc Dermid's A Darker Domain for that very reason. You see, I look forward to a new Val McDermid like a child looks forward to Christmas.

Many crime authors are talented, imaginative and good writers but few have demonstrated her versatility within the genre. She can do relatively light crime fiction (both the Lindsay Gordon & Kate Brannigan series) while also being a master of the dark psychological thriller (her Dr Tony Hill series of stories is dramatised on TV as The Wire in the Blood). As well as the three series, she's produced a fair few stand-alone ripping yarns, as well.

A Darker Domain begins innocuously enough when miner Mick Prentice, last seen in 1984 at the height of the miners' strike, is reported missing by his daughter 23 years later. When Mick disappeared his family assumed he'd gone south to scab -- a heinous crime in a mining community where the union is practically a religion and certainly holds more sway than any church.

Mick's daughter, Misha, is now keen to track him down as her son, Luke, is suffering from Fanconi anaemia and needs a suitable donor for a blood marrow transplant.

Simultaneously, in Italy, journalist Bel Richmond discovers fresh evidence in the kidnapping of a wealthy Scottish heiress that also occurred in the mid-Eighties. Are the two events related? Detective Inspector Karen Pirie thinks they might be.

The narrative is fast-paced and rapidly switches back and forth between the present and the Eighties, and is delivered from the perspective of various characters. Locations are described in lavish detail and the contrast between sunburnt Tuscany and dreary Fife is as marked as the contrast between what was once a vibrant mining community and is now yet another faceless commuter town.

The disintegration of the community is just one of the many effects the miners' strike had -- and McDermid vividly describes the suffering endured by the miners and their families.

Yet even though McDermid is capable of making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck with her descriptions of horrific murders, base human emotions and terribly damaged people, her Celtic gallows humour is never far from the surface, such as when Mick's abandoned wife, Jenny, recalls the privations she suffered during the strike while the Band Aid single to help starving children in Africa reached number one.

"Where was Bono and Bob Geldof when our kids were waking up on Christmas morning with bugger all in their stockings? Could have been worse, though. We could've had to put up with that sanctimonious shite Sting. Not to mention his bloody lute."

A Darker Domain is most definitely an outstanding return to form for Val Mc Dermid, one that far surpasses expectations and for me, was like all of my Christmases coming together.

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