Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


PAST LYING by Val McDermid: Book Review

It’s April, 2020 in Edinburgh, and the COVID era is just beginning.  So little is known about it–how long the lockdown will last, how to protect one’s self from getting the virus, exactly how it’s transmitted–that it’s a really strange time.

For Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie, life in lockdown is particularly challenging.  It’s obviously difficult, if not impossible, to conduct investigations when she can’t move around the city freely and interview people as is necessary in her job in the Historic Cases Unit (what in the United States are called cold cases).

Trying to deal with a difficult situation, she’s in a “bubble” with a sergeant from her team, Daisy Mortimer.  They’re living in the flat belonging to Hamish Mackenzie, the man Karen’s been dating for several months, which is definitely better than Karen living alone in her much smaller and less luxurious flat a few miles away.  But in addition to the worry about the virus, Karen is frustrated by the lack of work and a concern about Hamish that she’s unwilling to examine too closely.

A phone call from Jason Murray, another member of the HCU, may be the beginning of a new case.  Jason receives a call from a woman he knows at the National Library of Scotland.  She’s an archivist and has been going through boxes of material that belonged to Jake Stein, a crime writer who recently died.  He was very well known and respected until a sexual scandal derailed his career; although he continued to write, he never regained his former popularity.

The librarian tells Jason that in one of the many boxes that were donated to the library by Stein’s widow, she’s reading what appears to be a novel about the murder of Lara Hardie, a young woman who actually disappeared a year earlier and whose body was never found.  The book is “full of echoes of Lara Hardie’s story,” Jason is told.  “It’s really creepy.”

When Karen and Daisy receive a copy of the manuscript, they assume that it’s written by Stein, since it was in one of the boxes given to the library by Ros Stein, Jake Stein’s widow.  Strangely though, Karen thinks, it mentions his slumping book sales and the fact that his long-time publisher had dropped him, something she has trouble imagining the author would admit and want published.  But then, she continues musing to herself, the HCU team is at a disadvantage since the manuscript is incomplete.  Who knows how Stein would have ended the story?

At the same time, Karen and Jason are dealing with personal issues.  Karen is rethinking her relationship with Hamish, bothered by his casual disregard of the government mandated degrees of separation rules, while Jason is dealing with his mother’s hospitalization due to the illness.

Val McDermid brings back all the stresses and fears of the virus’ early days, when so much about it was unknown and the possibility of a vaccine lay in a possibly distant future.  Each character behaves according to their personality, and, as always, Ms. McDermid brings each one perfectly to life, along with the picture of a major city brought almost to its knees by a deadly illness.

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

Leave a Reply