When a skeleton is discovered hidden at the top of a crumbling, gothic building in Edinburgh, Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie is faced with the unenviable task of identifying the bones. As Karen’s investigation gathers momentum, she is drawn deeper into a world of intrigue and betrayal, spanning the dark days of the Balkan Wars.
Karen’s search for answers brings her to a small village in Croatia, a place scarred by fear, where people have endured unspeakable acts of violence. Meanwhile, someone is taking the law into their own hands in the name of justice and revenge — but when present resentment collides with secrets of the past, the truth is more shocking than anyone could have imagined . . .
Thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy for review.
Confession time first. I am a Scottish book blogger, I mainly read crime fiction and yet in my 40 years I have never read a Val McDermid novel. I put that wrong to right with every turn of the page and will be back for more soon.
The Skeleton Road was a tricky read for me for a variety of reasons and it stomped all over my emotions as the story progressed. A key focus is upon the Balkan Wars and we are given an insight into some of the atrocities of the conflict. The previously untold stories of horrific war crimes that are often hard to comprehend or rationalise are depicted in a necessary detail.
We read about the struggle and the pain that was endured by so many as the country formerly known as Yugoslavia broke into separate country states. Having visited Croatia, and driven through beautiful landscapes which (in some places) still show some signs of the conflict that occurred there just a few short years ago, I found it easy to immerse myself in the book.
I would also note that I read The Skeleton Road in the week it was published. A week that ended with the Scottish Indy Referendum – an event which is actually discussed during the story. Reading about the turmoil in a European country as they strove to become a country in their own right made my personal requirement to place a cross in one of two boxes extremely humbling.
The principle character of The Skeleton Road was DCI Karen Pirie, I got the impression this was a character that had been introduced in previous story but I found Pirie to be a strong voice and would like to read more books she appears in. Other supporting characters (specifically The Mint) added a lighter tone that lifted the dark tone of the story.
Pirie works cold cases so a skeleton atop an old Edinburgh building places the investigation firmly at her door; yet she soon crosses paths with a War Crimes investigation and politics come into play. I found that Val McDermid is rather good at ensuring Pirie wins the power-play conversations and the way Pirie out-manoeuvres those in the way of her investigation was a delight.
With a story crossing from Fife to Oxford and then to Croatia there was a good flow to the majority of story but I did feel that I lost my way slightly in the middle of the book as the back story of the Croatian characters were established. But the pace was quickly re-established and the finale played out very nicely for this reader.
A great introduction (for me) to Val McDermid and I recommend that you spend some time on The Skeleton Road too.