BENGALURU: How do you like your detective fiction? If you are fond of a juicy, complex, labyrinthine plot which unravels slowly and methodically, and yet is so compelling that you have to keep turning those pages, I have a recommendation for you today.
A Place for Execution by Val McDermid is a crafted, intricate piece of detective writing. There’s excellent character development, and a twist in the tail that shakes the reader. It moves at a deliberate pace, but never meanders and is definitely not lethargic.
Alison Carter went missing in 1963, one among a handful of young girls that disappeared all of a sudden in Britain around the time. This specific disappearance especially moved Catherine Heathcote, who was at about Alison’s age at that time, and was herself staying at a village just like Scardale in Derbyshire, where Alison Carter used to live. Now, 35 years later, Heathcote, now an ambitious journalist, encounters the now-retired George Bennet, formerly of the Derbyshire police, who had led the investigations to the Carter disappearance. She persuades Bennet to co-write his memoir which is a true-crime story about how he and his partner Tommy Clough had gone about solving the case and convicting Alison Carter’s abusive stepfather of the crime. Heathcote’s manuscript of this story forms Part 1 of the book.
And then, a letter arrives from Bennett, requesting that Heathcote stops work on the book immediately, that he does not want anything more to do with it, and if she persists, he might take legal recourse. This starts Part 2 of the book. Heathcote has to igure out for herself what really happened at Scardale all those years ago.
The story moves to the present, and piece by piece, the mystery unravels to lead to the twisted, unexpected answer.
The police procedural is the most realistic sub-genre of detective fiction describing how the police follows a crime and apprehends the criminal. It’s also perhaps the most difficult to write. The line of questioning of suspects, the collection and usage of clues, are not maverick and imaginative as is the wont of the genius private investigator, but systematic and process-driven. This needs research mere imagination would not help much. Also, how do you avoid making it a boring report, and instead write a page-turner? In this book, McDermid manages it expertly.
Val McDermid is a seasoned and successful crime fiction writer, who is somehow not as popular beyond her native British Isles (she is Scottish) as she should be. She writes some of the most intelligent plots of all detective writers, and writes them in classical, flawless prose. She should be read a lot more, and this book is a fine place to start.
Recommended Reading: A Place of Execution by Val McDermid.
The police procedural is the most realistic sub-genre of detective fiction describing how the police follows a crime and apprehends the criminal. It’s also perhaps the most difficult to write. The line of questioning of suspects, the collection and usage of clues, are not maverick and imaginative as is the wont of the genius private investigator, but systematic and process-driven.