Val McDermid pens a disturbing tale in her stand alone novel - A Place of Execution. It’s 1963 and on a freezing December night, 13-year-old Alison Carter goes missing in the isolated countryside of Scardale. This is my first time reading Val McDermid. She’s a solid writer with various awards & nominations under her belt. This title is said to have been short-listed for the Edgar Award and was a New York Times Notable book among other accolades.
Detective Inspector George Bennett is the brooding young detective set on the career fast track when he takes on the case of the missing teen. Lacking experience in crimes of this nature, he allows this inquiry to get under his skin. Eventually the Inspector along with his sergeant, put together a criminal case built on circumstantial evidence that renders a verdict that has an impact some thirty-five years later.
There’s a sinister feel to the story right from the beginning that hooked me immediately. The ill-boding mood didn’t waver much in the first half and set the tone for the majority of the novel. The author gets high marks for creating a sense of place where you could imagine the freezing cold temperatures and the vastness of the land that surrounds Derbyshire. Reading this novel was almost like reading a scary bedtime story about several kids who disappear without a trace during the 1960′s.
Meanwhile, the village of Scardale is said to be a “secret world” and an insular community distrustful of strangers or outsiders. There are only three surnames in the entire village. The place itself is said to be “the land that time forgot” and a “law unto itself.” The latter is especially true after it’s found that one of its own villagers was kicked out for reasons explained in the story. In the current case, there’s hints of child abuse and other sordid monstrosities.
This tight-nit rural community is tight-lipped when the police enter with their tracker dogs to aid in the search for the missing teenager. The patriarch of Scardale tells Bennett and his team that they have no clue what they are looking for here. Sure enough, she’s right. Quite a telling remark, too.
Some revelations within the story were quite shocking while others were quite predictable. The story is nicely paced and with a prose style that worked for me. The language of the story stood out for me because some words were beyond my comprehension. I loved it though. The characters are somewhat fully developed. This novel is best described as a psychological thriller. The suspense was generated mostly from the continuous hunt for clues and the police officer’s frustrations at the trickling of significant information from the villagers. Interrogation scenes were not the usual boring fare.
Another credit to the writer is creating a believable investigation with the usual pressures of the job. The main drawback is charging someone with a murder when they couldn’t even find a body. The author inserted the aspect of journalism into the story that chronicled the criminal investigation with each new development. DI Bennett had to deal with troublesome leaks within the police department and had to deal with uncooperative journalists looking to make a name for themselves with sensationalist headlines.
There were hints that to me were quite telling in the text. Something just told me this was not your usual mystery. To say more would give too much away. I do have a few criticisms though. Firstly, this story was way too long at 465 pages (according to my reading app). The story not only included the police investigation but went on to include a lengthy trial that to me didn’t really add much but a wrinkle to an already sordid story. Lastly,the story was padded in places but it wasn’t that bad but I skimmed past these sections since they added absolutely nothing to the story.
The novel is broken down into two books and further broken down into several different parts with a prologue that I should have paid more attention to. The author used dual storylines where over half of the book is set in the 1960′s and the last fourth is set in the late 1990′s. I was somewhat surprised that the story turned to the present and didn’t much care for it quite honestly.
The most riveting part of the story was book one where the author did a good job of recreating the country police force of the 1960′s as they try to unravel a baffling case with no body. I was completely and thoroughly engrossed in the story until it reached the trial and then proceeded to conclude itself into the present. The outcome while believable left me unmoved. The message of the story is many but my take away was that troublesome events of the past should stay buried there and that the justice you seek isn’t always the justice you find.
I was prepared to give this book a glowing review. That is until I hit the denouement. I kind of think that the story started to falter and lost a lot of its steam when the tense changed to the present. Nonetheless, the first half of this book was a page-turner and I would still recommend this book to friends. I think the overall story left me feeling disturbed and ambivalent. The author did note that this story has a kernel of truth to it but the village of Scardale does not exist. At any rate, I’d give this book a B+. My thanks to all the readers who either reviewed this book or recommended it to me.
Source: I bought this one