A Place of Execution
Harper Collins 2009
I’m a long time fan of Val McDermid and was pretty sure I’d read all her books, so I was surprised (and delighted) to come across A Place of Execution from 2009. Published by Harper Collins, it’s an impressive size at 486 pages.
The story begins when a thirteen year old girl goes missing from the tiny village of Scarsdale in Derbyshire. Wet-behind-the-ears Detective Inspector George Bennett is in charge of his first big investigation and determined to do a good, conscientious job of bringing the girl home. He and his sidekick, Sergeant Tommy Clough, are not met with any enthusiasm by the residents of Scardale, who – between them – share only three surnames. I struggled a bit in this section trying to pin down the complicated relationships between these similarly named people.
Set in 1963, the story is well rooted in its time with lots of references to music, sport etc as gentle reminders of how different the world was then. I could have done without the constant references to the victims of the Moors Murderers. Although it was possible to draw a tenuous link between them and the missing girl, I found these passages intrusive and not relevant to the story.
The first half of the book dragged a little for me as the worthy and stolid police officers worked their way through a series of clues which culminated in the arrest and conviction of a suspect. There was a lot of repetitive smoking, drinking and chewing the fat along the way.
In 1998, George Bennet collaborates with a journalist to write a book about the event and, just as they are about to go to press, a shocking revelation is uncovered. From this point onwards, the book is riveting and I doubt if many people will guess the ending. I had a small “what if” moment about a third the way through the book but dismissed it because the plot very cleverly took me in a different direction.
I nearly gave up in the first third of the book because of the slow pace and the difficulty in keeping pace with the multiple characters, but am really glad I didn’t because I would have missed the real OMG! moment. If I read it again, though, I’ll probably skip the early chapters.