Val McDermid is criminally talented. The author of three successful mystery series and five stand-alone mysteries, McDermid could retire tomorrow and be confident she would be ranked among the greatest mystery writers of all time. If she had to rest her laurels on only one book A Place of Execution would ensure her presence among any list of the greats. A Darker Domain is reminiscent of A Place of Execution - a cold case, an insular community - but it's far more than a good author revisiting tried and true ground. This is a solid mystery featuring a detective I for one hope McDermid will want to treat readers to again.
Two cold cases occupy DI Karen Pirie: the disappearance of a miner during the 1980s miners 'strike and the kidnapping of a wealthy heiress and her son. I don't want to unveil much more of the plot except to say that McDermid brings the Miners' strike to life so vividly that I've sought out the books she mentions for further reading. Police interviews to tell the story via flashback and does it so artfully that the device never becomes clunky. The central mysteries aren't quite as unfathomable as that of some of McDermid's earlier work and while I'm usually pretty harsh on an abundance of coincidences McDermid does such an incredible job of creating believable characters that I didn't mind. I was too in awe of her ability to sketch an indelible portrait of two very different police partners in less than three pages.
That is McDermid's greatest strength. She can create a twisty plot and deliver the shocks but it is her characters and her communities that stay with the reader. McDermid earns special praise from me for her fully realized female characters. You'll meet women of all classes, persuasions and IQs in a Val McDermid book but you'll never meet a cardboard cutout. And you'll never find a female lead hanging around waiting for a man to save the day. Karen Pirie is a fine example of McDermid's talents - she's a smart woman who knows she's probably sacrifice her personal life for her career, who eats food she knows isn't good for her but doesn't feel guilty about it, and who is ready to match wits against anyone foolish enough to try to get one over on her. That McDermid gives Karen happy ending is further proof that neither she nor her heroines go in for cliches.
In her dedication Val McDermid thanks her grandparents for introducing her to the works of Agatha Christie. I have a feeling that her grandparents and Ms Christie would be proud.