Broken Ground by Val McDermid

Broken Ground by Val McDermidThank you to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for providing an Advance Reader’s Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Alice Somerville and her husband travel to the Scottish Highlands to excavate her inheritance–two Indian Scout motorcycles from World War II that her grandfather and his mate, Kenny, had stolen and buried rather than see destroyed after the Americans left Scotland. However, the Somervilles unexpectedly uncover a body, a man wearing Nikes, who was presumed murdered.

Karen Pirie and her Historic Crimes Unit, Jason “The Mint” Murray and newcomer to the team Gerry McCartney, a Detective Sergeant added to the unit by Assistant Chief Constable Ann Markie, take over the investigation.The book follows Pirie as she learns the identity of the murder victim and traces his killer. Woven into the narrative is not only a caper from World War II but also a domestic violence incident that might be more than it seems as well as an inquiry into violent rapes that occurred in the 1980s. Pirie must contend with aging evidence, long-forgotten memories, and obstinate colleagues while trying to provide answers to grieving families. Unconcerned with politics yet eager to achieve justice for the victims, Pirie can be her own worst enemy.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book which is well-written and expertly paced. The book includes crimes from four different time lines: the WWII motorcycle theft, the 1980s rapes, the murder of the man wearing Nikes, and the contemporary domestic violence incident. In lesser hands, this could be confusing or overdone, but here it is fascinating. Perhaps my biggest (and sole) complaint about plot is that Pirie seems to figure out certain elements of the mystery without having much information.

Being set in Scotland made the book more interesting to me. I’ve read other Scottish detective novels and it was fun to compare and contrast the treatment hallmark Edinburgh highlights. Descriptions of the Highlands made me want to travel there! I will say, though, there were lots of British words I had to look up!

For the most part, Pirie was a sympathetic and engaging character, and The Mint was entirely endearing. Some of the other characters, though, particularly DS McCartney and ACC Markie, seemed to be be one-note foils for Pirie instead of well-developed in their own right. Peripheral characters had what I imaged to be compelling backstories that might be in play in other books in the series. Even so, it is not necessary to read the other books to enjoy this novel. In fact, this is my first Inspector Karen Pirie novel. I don’t know how I didn’t know about the books before, but I’m eager to read the first four books, I enjoyed Broken Ground so much.

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