NEW BRITISH 2023 CRIME: PAST LYING By Val McDermid and THE RISE By Ian Rankin
Fans of Scottish crime fiction can rejoice with a new Karen Pirie novel by Val McDermid and an unexpected short story from Ian Rankin.
Val McDermid’s popular cold case detective, DCI Karen Pirie, makes a welcomed return in Past Lying (Sphere, 10 October 2023), the seventh book in the highly entertaining series.
Set in Edinburgh during the peak of the COVID lockdowns in early 2020, Past Lying is a very engaging mystery that features an interesting ‘story within a story’ plot and some great atmospheric writing.
Karen is initially sceptical when an author’s manuscript appears to be a blueprint for an actual crime, but she cannot ignore the plot’s chilling similarities to the unsolved case of an Edinburgh University student who vanished. The manuscript seems to be the key to unlocking what happened to Lara Hardie, but there’s a problem, the author, a disgraced well-known Scottish crime writer, died before he finished it.
As Karen digs deeper, she uncovers a spiralling game of betrayal and revenge, while around her the pandemic wreaks havoc and causes some tragic outcomes.
I think that Past Lying is probably Val’s best novel for some time. The plotting is clever, and I enjoyed the dual storylines of the author’s novel and the ongoing police investigation. As always, the mechanics of the cold case ring true, and along the way Val introduces the reader to an interesting cast of auxiliary characters.
The central mystery is a good one and it unfolds in very unexpected ways. The story is also helped by an interesting secondary storyline, which adds some good suspense and action. As well, there are some not unexpected developments in Karen’s personal life, which regular readers will find interesting.
Val is always very good at creating vivid and compelling scenes that make the most of Scotland’s history and scenery, and in Past Lying she ably recreates the horror and uncertainty of the pandemic:
“the novelty of street stillness hadn’t worn off. Looking down across the New Town and beyond from this height, nothing was stirring. It was like the zombie apocalypse, without the zombies.”
Scottish crime writing features heavily in the novel, as Karen tries to separate fact from fiction and in the process she receives a crash course in crime fiction and the vagaries of authors and publishers. This gives Val plenty of opportunity for ‘tongue-in-cheek’ reflections and plenty of inside comments and wry observations about contemporary crime writing, which adds to the pleasure.
I particularly liked this comment on the fictional Scottish crime writing award – the Golden Thistle:
“‘His first one was a word-of-mouth success, and the second one shot up the charts and won the Golden Thistle.’
‘Golden Thistle,’ Karen scoffed. ‘That’s a crime in itself.'”
In all, Past Lying is a very good novel that once more showcases Val’s immense talent. There is also an interesting hint of a new adventure for Karen at the end.
Thanks to the Canberra Weekly and the publisher for an advanced copy of the book for review.
For those moaning the absence of a Rebus novel this year, there is a nice pre-Christmas treat from Ian Rankin in the form of a non-Rebus short story.
The Rise is being released as part of Amazon’s Original Stories series and is available on Kindle from 1 November at a very price.
The Rise is set in London, on the edge of Hyde Park, among the residences of some of the richest and most powerful people in the UK. When the concierge of an exclusive high-rise apartment building is found murdered in cold blood, every resident becomes a suspect. Enter DS Gillian Gish, a strong female detective with a keen sense of justice.
Gillian has her work cut out for her, as the residents of the gleaming residential tower are all very rich and not without influence and they do not take kindly to finding their gilded lifestyles under police scrutiny. With grim determination, Gillian works her way through an elite set of suspects, including, a dodgy Russian oligarch, a lonely actress, an Arab princess, the family of a notorious career criminal and the reclusive building’s developer.
Rankin has said that The Rise was meant to be read in a single sitting, and it certainly meets that aim. The story moves along at a crisp pace and there are some good twists, including a second death, before arriving at its clever and unexpected denouement. The characters are simply sketched, but effective, and Gillian Gish makes for a very engaging detective. She is very different in style to Rebus, but displays the same perseverance and the same ability to get to the truth, regardless of the consequences. I would not be surprised if we saw more of her in the future.
There are also the typically sharp-eyed observations by Rankin and some nice descriptions of inner-London. I thoroughly enjoyed The Rise and missed all the clues as to the outcome. Highly recommended.
Unfortunately The Rise appears to be only available on Kindle or Audible, but it is well worth hunting down.