Val McDermid is best known for her Tony Hill novels and the
television series created from them. In A DARKER DOMAIN, a
stand-alone work, she takes a completely different storytelling
tactic. She has devised a complicated collage consisting of a dual
narrative and two seemingly unrelated cases dating back more than
20 years. At first, readers may find themselves stumbling through
the labyrinth of the alternating time frames and multiple voices.
But once they get the footwork down, things begin to fall into
place. As the tension propels the plot forward, the trail of
breadcrumbs and red herrings starts to coalesce, bringing the
events, past and present, out of their maze.
A DARKER DOMAIN also takes on social issues not always present
in other novels: the desperate cruelty of the coal strikes
decades ago, the results that shattered lives and communities, the
underlying class system that still exists in Britain and the role
of the police when it comes to solving current and cold cases.
The time is 1984-1985 during the coal miners’ strike in
Britain. At that time Margaret Thatcher wanted to break the unions,
and the coal industry was where she was going to do it. As a
result, the destruction was catastrophic for an entire industry,
and there was no return from the damage. People were worn down to
the quick as they slowly starved or froze in their tiny cottages.
Fife, Scotland, was where Thatcher centered her project. Other
mines continued to operate in other parts of the country, but no
miner wanted to desert his home and fellow union buddies to become
a “blackleg” (better known as a “scab”).
This was unthinkable.
Thus, when a small group of men fled with their families, all of
their reputations were permanently damaged. One of the most
surprising turncoats was Mick Prentice, a well-respected union man
with a wife and daughter, both of whom he left behind. They
suffered brutal shunning and were no longer considered part of the
community. His family never heard from him again except for the
occasional envelope stuffed with money, which his wife, Jenny, gave
to charity. The night Mick disappeared his best friend, Andy Kerr,
also vanished and was never heard from again. Everyone, including
his wife, just assumed he ran off to Nottingham with the others to
Misha Prentice is now a grown woman and mother. Her son is
desperately ill and needs a transplant. His only hope is the
possibility that his grandfather, Mick, is a match for him. Thus
begins Misha’s long, thorny and desperate journey to find
him. Her first step is to go to the Fife police. Since the case is
so old, it falls on the desk of Karen Pirie, the newly promoted
Detective Inspector of the cold case unit. As she interviews the
woman, she feels an affinity for Misha, finds the case intriguing
and decides to investigate.
Broderick McClellan (Brodie) Grant is one of the richest men in
the country. His one daughter and only grandson were kidnapped 22
years ago. A ransom transfer went terribly wrong, leading to the
daughter’s death and the boy never being seen again. Still,
the old man is ready to open another investigation when Bel
Richmond, an investigative journalist, finds a crumpled old flyer
about the case when she is on vacation in Tuscany. With this piece
of paper, if she can gain access to Brodie (who never grants
interviews), she has written her own ticket to an explosive
exclusive. He surprisingly ends up agreeing to her demands, and she
slowly mines the story of the kidnap/murder. Her agenda aside, all
of this opens a Pandora’s box, one that will frustrate both
DI Pirie and Bel Richmond.
Slowly and painfully, Brodie describes the kidnapping of his
only daughter and grandson. As he and Bel go back over the few
facts he knows, little tidbits of newly accessible information
begin to seep out and could be new leads.
Geography, pathology, archaeology, anthropology mingled with
common sense, intuition and the brains of the two women
investigating two arms of the monster cases afford readers a
fascinating history of what the powers that were did to an entire
industry and the people they crushed. Murders are uncovered and
disappearances put to rest. Fans of McDermid and newcomers alike
should find A DARKER DOMAIN a masterful novel that will challenge
their armchair detective skills.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien on December 29, 2010