In December 1978, around four in the morning, in the middle of a
heavy snowstorm, a group of graduate students leave their favorite
pub. They're singing and arguing and horsing around when Alex loses
his footing. His fall however is broken by something soft. When his
vision clears and he has his wits about him, he realizes he has
just fallen on top of a woman's body.
Ziggy, the pre-med student, sobers up immediately as he recognizes
the bleeding woman. She is Rosie Duff, the barmaid, who has been a
friendly comfort to the boys for as long as they have known her.
She is still alive, but barely. The group is in the middle of
snow-covered landscape with no signs of life anywhere. Alex sets
out to find help and eventually comes across a young cop, who
listens to Alex's fantastic story with suspicion and
But by the time they reach the scene, Rosie is dead. The four
students are the most likely suspects in her brutal killing. Over
the next few days the police subject each of them to intense
interrogations. None of them are prepared for the force of
prejudgment and personal attacks inflicted by the townspeople.
Finally, they are released; they go home for the holidays, but
their ordeal is far from over.
No charges are ever brought against the four friends. They get
their degrees and move on with their lives, but each of them is
haunted by the events of that winter night twenty-five years ago.
Then in November 2003, a decision is made to open old cold case
files and Rosie Duff's is one of the most troubling. Things have
changed for the detectives who originally investigated her murder.
Some have retired, some have died and some have gone on to
promotion after promotion. Most of the current force, old enough to
remember Rosie, feel that they have a second chance to get the
fractious four. One in particular has them in his sights and is
determined to bring them to justice.
Then Ziggy, who has made his home in America, dies in an arson
fire. Alex and only one of the "four" attend the funeral; there
they both admit that they are uneasy about the circumstances under
which their friend died. They promise to stay in touch. Soon, they
learn that another member of their group has been murdered.
Suddenly the two who are left realize that they and their families
are targets of a killer.
THE DISTANT ECHO is Val McDermid's best book to date. She has
written a mystery that is a full-blown whodunit with believable
characters and a chilling eeriness. Each bit of information, each
new clue, each new idea fits together with perfect symmetry.
Readers will be hooked immediately to the complexities of the
murder investigation, the impact it has on everyone attached to the
case, and how corrupt officials have the power to twist the truth
while contaminating the evidence. In her own inimitable style,
McDermid has written a masterful novel that will haunt readers long
after the crimes are solved.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 21, 2011