Much, much more than a mere police procedural “The Skeleton Road” is actually three simultaneous narratives. Didactic in nature, the novel is meticulously researched and enlightens the reader in an entertaining way.
When an eight-year old skeleton is found atop an abandoned Edinburgh school – the case falls to DI Karen Pirie and her Cold Case Squad. The skeleton, with a single gunshot in his skull, was jammed into a pinnacle on the roof. He proves to be a middle-aged man of Eastern European descent. When Karen and her squad attempt to discern the identity of the deceased man things begin to get complicated.
With myriad characters, the narrative shifts from Scotland and the murder inquiry, to Oxford, England and professor Maggie Blake, a geopolitical expert. Maggie was in Croatia during the siege of Dubrovnik and has written and lectured on the subject of The Croatian War of Independence. She met her husband there, as well as her best friend Tessa Minogue. Her husband, Croatian General Dimitar “Mitja” Petrovic, vanished without a word eight years ago… She always assumed he had returned to Croatia.
Meanwhile, the third narrative features The Department of Justice employees who are investigating the vigilante killings of war criminals. Their research has led them to believe that General Petrovic is the vigilante they seek and they aim to bring him up before a tribunal for his offenses.
I can understand how some readers might despair of keeping the many characters and plot clear in their minds. But rest assured, seasoned novelist Val McDermid turns them into one cohesive whole with strong characterizations and a firm grip on her subject matter. The third novel to feature Detective Inspector Karen Pirie and her Historic Cases Unit, “The Skeleton Road” can easily be read as a stand-alone. Perhaps this is because in this particular novel the police procedural aspect is secondary to the other story lines.
I thoroughly enjoyed “The Skeleton Road” though it does not follow the regular formula of a mystery novel. Laced with elements of history and politics, it served as an enjoyable way of educating myself on the recent history of the Serbo-Croatian conflict while also retaining elements of a traditional police procedural. The ending packs an emotional wallop and induces the reader to follow Karen Pirie’s exploits in further novels.
She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award.
She writes full time and divides her time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.