‘Bro­ken Ground’ gives new in­sight to Scot­land’s role in war

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - WEEKEND LIFE - BY OLINE H. COGDILL

The past is al­ways in the present for Ed­in­burgh De­tec­tive Chief In­spec­tor Karen Pirie, mak­ing her fifth ap­pear­ance in Val Mcder­mid’s ex­pertly plot­ted “Bro­ken Ground.”

As head of the His­toric Cases Unit — that would be cold cases in the United States — Karen is used to in­ves­ti­ga­tions that aren’t just old but also give a glimpse of life in the past.

As a re­sult, the Karen Pirie nov­els turn the spot­light on bits of for­got­ten his­tory. “Bro­ken Ground” has its roots in World War II in the Scot­tish High­lands. In 1944, soldiers pulling out of their en­camp­ment were told to ei­ther burn or bury their equip­ment as it would be too costly to sal­vage any­thing.

But two soldiers couldn’t bear to de­stroy the pair of valu­able Amer­i­can mo­tor­cy­cles that had just ar­rived, so they buried them in pro­tec­tive boxes in the peat bog, plan­ning to re­turn one day for their trea­sure.

They never got the chance, but now one sol­dier’s grand­daugh­ter, Alice Somerville, and her hus­band, Will, have come to claim their in­her­i­tance.

The peat bog pro­tects any­thing buried in it, in­clud­ing the per­fectly pre­served body of a mur­dered pro­fes­sional ath­lete whose body is found along with the mo­tor­cy­cles. But this was a more mod­ern crime as it is quickly de­ter­mined that the man dis­ap­peared in 1995, based on his ex­pen­sive lim­ited-edi­tion shoes.

As Karen delves into the decades-old tragedy, she also is drawn into a woman’s do­mes­tic vi­o­lence sit­u­a­tion that seems to be on the verge of es­ca­lat­ing.

Mcder­mid’s affin­ity for mul­ti­lay­ered plots and com­plex char­ac­ters con­tin­ues to ex­cel in “Bro­ken Ground,” her 32nd novel.

Work con­sumes Karen, al­low­ing her to com­part­men­tal­ize her grief over the death of the man she loved, Phil Parhatka, a fel­low de­tec­tive killed in the line of duty.

Jug­gling the cases, she also deals with a new de­tec­tive as­signed to her tiny squad, who may be spy­ing on her for their new boss who de­spises Karen.

Po­lice pol­i­tics and crime in­ves­ti­ga­tions soar in “Bro­ken Ground,” but Mcder­mid’s look at the High­lands dur­ing World War II gives a new in­sight into Scot­land’s role dur­ing the war.

And be­ware of those peat bogs — you may never re­turn.


“Bro­ken Ground” (At­lantic Monthly Press), by Val Mcder­mid.

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