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Friday, May 14, 2010

The Distant Echo. Val McDermid. HarperCollins (2003)


This is a enjoyable and well constructed murder mystery. Four drunk college students stumble a dying woman dumped in an old burial ground in Scotland. They find themselves suspects in her murder and while the pressure on them is colossal the case is never resolved. Twenty five years later and a major cold case review is launched by the police, with the Rosie Duff case included in the review. The review does more than stir up old memories and fears, one of the students is murdered. The plot gathers considerable momentum as the action escalates steadily up to the gripping conclusion.
This is a really well constructed mystery, Val McDermid sets the story up very well from the finding of the body through the initial run of the investigation and the impact it has on the four friends. The four students all respond to the pressure in different and interesting ways, they way that suspicion undermines them is nicely done as it the ferocious frustration of the police and the victim's family. Pushing the story twenty five years ahead and picking up the threads is clever and effective. It means that the four students have become four new adult characters, as they are drawn back into the case the contrast with their previous lives are nicely played out.
Val McDermid uses a large cast and multiple viewpoints to considerable effect, she uses the scope to add depth and tension to the mystery as competing agendas and perspectives are spotlighted. The cast are lively and distinctive and all of them are actively engaged in the story. This is one of the very nice things about the book, there is constant motion as the cast push each other in search of answers. The story escalates in a very natural way as the plot coils tighten. Smart, sharp and very enjoyable.

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