OUT OF BOUNDS BY VAL MCDERMID
Idon’t usually look as rough as this. It’s been a tough week and somebody tried to kill me last night.” So says Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie, head of Police Scotland’s Historic Cases Unit, in the latter quarter of Val Mcdermid’s 30th novel. It’s a line that tells us a lot about a character and about a book that conclusively proves Mcdermid has lost none of her skills in creating a gripping and entertaining pageturner, which is also a genuine contemplation about how past actions and events continue to influence who we are today.
Out Of Bounds – the fourth DCI Karen Pirie book in a series that also includes The Distant Echo, A Darker Domain and The Skeleton Road – begins when a teenage joyrider crashes a stolen car, and a routine DNA test reveals a surprising connection to an unsolved murder 22 years previously. Pirie and her colleague DC Jason “the Mint” Murray briefly believe that this case should be a relatively simple one, but naturally soon discover that, both physically and legally, it’s as convoluted as a strand of DNA.
An additional complication is that Pirie – still grieving the murder of her former colleague and partner, and openly hated by some of her fellow “polis” – is irresistibly drawn to another case that, for numerous professional and personal reasons, she really has no business thinking about at all.
Mcdermid’s plotting of these overlapping cases is, of course, assured. Admittedly, she’s not the warmest of writers; seldom does Mcdermid come up with a phrase memorable in its own right. Also, while the novel’s strongest character thread is Pirie’s grieving process – and we do spend much of the novel inside Pirie’s head – there’s a certain emotional detachment, thanks in part to Mcdermid’s habit of shifting the narrative’s point-of-view character whenever it suits her.
In addition, Mcdermid has a tendency to take the old writer’s mantra of “show, don’t tell” too far on occasions – for example, do we really need to know the backstory of an early morning cyclist when the important story point – the discovery of a body – is adequately covered later in a couple of lines of dialogue?
On the plus side, Mcdermid’s writing isn’t without humour: at one point, she deliberately draws attention to the fact that her Historic Cases Unit is exactly like a TV cop show – “One grumpy inspector and a sergeant like a sheep solving all the crimes two-handed”.
Most importantly, in Out Of Bounds Mcdermid provides her readers with a conclusion that’s emotionally satisfying without breaking the realms of believability.
“She’s lost none of her skill in creating a gripping and entertaining page-turner”