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4.1 out of 5 stars
A Darker Domain
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
This is the first book I've read by Val McDermid. I've really enjoyed the tv serialisation of Wire In The Blood and finding out Val McDermid was the writer is what led me to her - books are usually better than films/tv adaptations. This book does not feature Tony Hill and is more of a stand alone book - although since reading it I have found it does have a predecessor - I should have read more of the review on here beforehand as I believe the cold cases that this book is based on were featured in the earlier book.

The way the book links 2 seemingly unrelated cold cases is very well done and the book is well written.
The first plot follows the reporting of miner Mick Prentice as missing by his daughter - 23 years after he disppeared, presumed to be a scab.
The second plot covers a kidnapping that happened around the same time (22 years ago) in which the daughter and grandson of a wealthy business man were held to ransom and the daughter was subsequently killed.

The first half of this book had me gripped and I found it thoroughly enjoyable, the plot was sound and I could relate to the characters.
However, I have 2 main problems with this book. By the time I was half way through I had figured out the ending, I persevered in the hope that I was wrong and there would be an unexpected twist. There wasn't.
My second problem was the ending in itself, it was very rushed with the loose ends all being tied up very quickly (within a few pages) and in a very unimaginative way.
The first half of this book was brilliant and makes me see what a talented writer Val McDermid could be (and probably is in other books). The last half was too predictable for my liking and the ending left me disappointed.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Val McDermid is best known for her gory serial-killer thrillers featuring Dr Tony Hill, but personally I have always preferred her stand-alone novels such as 'A Place Of Execution.' In these she tones down the violence of her other work and focuses more on the psychology of her characters, which I find far more engrossing than the wince-inducing torture and depravity Tony Hill and Carol Jordan regularly face - although I do enjoy the Hill books too. This, her latest, doesn't altogether count as a stand-alone novel, as it is a sequel of sorts to an earlier book, 'A Distant Echo' (and anyone who intends to read that book should do so before this one, as 'A Darker Domain' reveals its predecessor's ending), but in style and tone this is very much one of her slow-burning psychological thrillers.

In fact, for the majority of the book it represents the author at her best: the characters are believable, the dialogue convincing and the plot gripping. The story concerns two cold cases which originated within a few weeks of each other at the end of 1984 and beginning of 1985. One is the disappearance of a striking miner, the other is the kidnapping of the daughter and grandson of a wealthy and influential businessman. Gradually new evidence is uncovered which suggests there may have been a link between the two events, and it's up to DI Karen Pirie and journalist Bel Richmond to uncover the long-buried truth. The Miners Strike forms a backdrop to the story; Val McDermid grew up in a mining community and her passionate anger as she describes the hardships suffered brings home just how devastating the consequences were for the miners and their families. It all adds up to a rich, thought-provoking read.

However, a couple of major flaws emerge towards the end. Firstly, the solution to what exactly happened in the past and how the two cases are linked is actually quite obvious. Not all the details, but the main points. I kept expecting a big twist to turn the plot on its head, but it never came; there is a minor surprise at the very end, but nothing to make the reader gasp in shock. The second flaw, the one which came close to ruining the book for me, was the ending. The solution of the cases and the tying up of loose ends takes place in just TWO pages. It's almost as if the author ran out of time, or simply lost interest and decided to wrap things up as quickly as possible. One minute the investigation seems doomed - two pages later and it's all over. I can't remember the last time I was so disappointed with a novel's ending. Over three hundred pages gradually building to a climax and then a few bald paragraphs as the payoff.

Val McDermid is undoubtedly a talented writer who has produced some excellent thrillers over the years. 'A Darker Domain' starts so well I really thought it was destined to be another, but I ended up feeling disappointed and rather cheated. It's still worth 3 stars, because the majority of the book is highly enjoyable, but prepare yourself for a damp squib of a conclusion.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2009
A Darker Domain
By Val McDermid
Harper
October 2008
ISBN: 978-0-06-168898-0
Paperback, $15.95, 271 pp.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit

The "darker domain" of the title is the world of the coal miner. The author comes by her knowledge of that world almost genetically, as both of her grandfathers were coal miners.

One story line arises out of the national miners' strike in the UK, coincidentally something I, living in the US and not familiar with that struggle, had just seen brought to creative life in the current theatrical staging of Billy Elliot. At the height of the hardships and tensions engendered by the lingering strike, Mick Prentice, for reasons best known to himself, leaves his wife and children alone and ostracized in their community, giving his family "instant pariah status." Nine months into the strike, he was one of six men who "disappeared [apparently] . . . to Nottingham to join the blacklegs," i.e., strikebreakers. Mick's daughter Michelle ("Misha") Gibson files a missing persons report with Karen Pirie, DI and head of the Cold Case Review Team of the Fife Constabulary in Scotland. Though her mother had received money from time to time, postmarked from Nottingham but with no return address on the envelopes, a search following a present family crisis has made Misha aware of the fact that her father has well and truly disappeared. She tells Karen: "Take it from me, Inspector. He's not where he's supposed to be. He never was. And I need him found."

Karen describes herself as "a wee fat woman crammed into a Marks and Spencer suit, mid-brown hair needing a visit to the hairdresser, might be pretty if you could see the definition of her bones under the flesh," and "always a sucker for anything that made people shake their heads in bemused disbelief. Long shots were what got her juices flowing." And so she takes on the challenge of tracking down Mick Prentice.

The second story line deals with Annabel ("Bel") Richmond, an ambitious freelance reporter who by chance stumbles across startling new evidence in another old case: the kidnapping of the daughter and grandson of a rich and powerful "captain of industry." The daughter was killed during a botched ransom payoff, the kidnappers never found. When Bel approaches the man, he decides to end his long inaccessibility and to use agents of both the media and the police for his own ends to find his grandson, as well as the person(s) responsible for the events that daily continue to haunt his life. Those agents are Bel herself, to whom he promises sole access, and DI Karen Pirie (to a point).

As Karen states, "Cold cases . . . They'd break your heart. Like lovers, they tantalized with promises that this time it would be different. It would start out fresh and exciting, you'd try to ignore those little niggles that you felt sure would disappear as you got to understand things better. Then suddenly it would be going nowhere. Wheels spinning in a gravel pit. And before you knew it, it was over. Back to square one."

This is the story of two such cases, and two remarkable and dedicated young women, each searching for the truth in their separate investigations, in which each anticipates great professional rewards for a successful outcome. The book proceeds in non-linear fashion, as flashbacks and changes of scene from Tuscany to Edinburgh to mining towns as were lead the reader forward through a maze. The characters are well-drawn, and I particularly liked one with the charming name of River Wilde, the daughter, she explains, of "hippy parents." The author does a masterful job limning these disparate tales, up until the very end, which was, I am dismayed to state, a disappointment to this reader. Nonetheless, Ms. McDermid's many fans will, I think, enjoy the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2012
Although I'd watched and enjoyed 'Wire in the Blood', this was my first Val McDermid novel. I liked the way the author skillfully drew us into the idea that two seemingly isolated cases - one more than 20 years old and the second much more recent, were in fact related. The first half of the story was intriguing, but thereafter disenchantment set in! I'd worked out the rest of the story and the second half of the book was merely padding. The final disappointment was the finale: a real anti-climax! Sorry to say that when I closed the final cover I was not left with any sense of satisfaction.
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on 9 April 2012
Two `cold cases' hit DS Phil Parhatka and D. I Karen Pirie (a 20 year old kidnapping and a missing miner) - millions of miles apart on the social scale but could they, in fact, be connected?

I read this just after The Distant Echo and that was perfect as some of the characters in the former appeared in this one so it dove-tailed nicely.

I found the references to the miners' strike of 1984 fascinating as I had no idea things were quite bad and that helped really bring this story to life for me. Italy was nicely created too so I could almost smell the olive trees and the espressos.

However, I am only awarding it 3 out of 5 because it felt slightly disjointed to me. It had so many characters and the story jumped around a good deal between 84/85 and present day, often featuring a new character that I struggled to keep up. By the time the story was finished I had just about got a handle on who was who but telling the two stories/two cases together made it hard although not impossible. Throw in the whole relationship sub plot and the journalist and the present day mother with a sick child and there was a huge amount going on.

I also found elements of the `whodunnit' reveal a little too hard to believe such that they stretched my credibility a little further than I would like. I am OK to suspend disbelief a good way if I have really really enjoyed a story but I didn't think this story justified me throwing `you are kidding!' to the wind. (I could discuss and give examples but that would be a massive spoiler).

Val is a good story teller and her central characters are well created, mainly. I had trouble putting this book down so it is still good but less good than some of her others in my humble opinion. Maybe she set the bar too high?
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 February 2010
Cold case investigator for the Fife Police DI Force Karen Pirie is called upon to deal with a case that goes back to the troubled period of the 1984 Miner's Strike, when it is discovered that a man believed to gone with five other workers who left the Newton of Wemyss twenty years ago wasn't a scab like the rest of them looking for work in England, but rather Mick Prentice has simply disappeared. At the same time a journalist makes an incredible discovery while on holiday in Italy that reopens another twenty year old case - the kidnapping and murder of the daughter of one of Scotland's richest and most prominent businessmen by a group of anarchists and the disappearance of her son.

McDermid's work is among the very best in crime writing, drawing the reader immediately into the complexities of two linked cases through strong, realistic characterisation, tying the circumstances into real-world events, both historical (the 84 Miners' Strike) and current (the Madeline McCann case) in a manner that reveals the mindset of diverse sections of the community in relation to enormous upheaval, whether in relation to a crime or social unrest.

Thus in A Darker Domain we get the view of the press, the police, the wealthy and the poor, each of them with a very different perspective on events past and present, a perspective that McDermid weaves together with what seems incredible ease, not only presenting a wider view of events, but showing where those perspectives clash and how indeed the original crimes arise out of such social disparities. With such good writing, the novel then is gripping from the start, meaningful in the subjects it examines, realistic in its characterisation.

Unfortunately, this characterisation isn't sustained through to the all-important conclusion and its revelations. Even though one can start to see where the cases might be linked quite early in the novel, McDermid fails to make the connection work, offering up answers much too easily, complete with full, written death-bed confessions that are too timely in relation to other events to remain credible. There's some satisfaction in the concision and neatness of the conclusion, with characters revealing their true nature and reaping the consequences (those involved in the case, as well as the personal lives of the police force officers), but disappointingly, particularly after such a strong opening and premise, they just don't ring true.
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VINE VOICEon 27 July 2010
This is an atmospheric and fast-moving novel from Val McDermid, set in 2007 but featuring two main historical story-lines: the disappearance of miner and union activist Mick Prentice in the midst of the Miners' Strike of 1984, and the unsolved investigation into the killing of Catriona Grant and the disappearance of her son Adam, respectively daughter and grandson of the third-richest man in Scotland, around the same time. DI Karen Pirie, a Cold Case expert, investigates both, the former unofficially and the latter at officially, but at the specific request of Catriona's influential father. The timeline jumps back and forth between 1984 and 2007, and other important dates at various points. There's a huge cast of characters, most of whom are significant in one way or another, and who are all fascinating individuals.

This is a book of many contrasts: the working-class, left-leaning ex-mining community, and the massively powerful Grant family, the hard existence in mining communities, particularly during the strike, and the different outlooks of various artists, the opressive atmosphere of the mining community in the 1984 strike, and the modern-day tourist friendly Scotland, with a few bits of Tuscan sun thrown in too.

It's satisfyingly complex and carefully unwound, until the very end, where too many things are resolved too quickly in very convenient ways, such as the discovery of a letter.

Enjoyable, but a bit of a let down in the end.
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on 10 July 2009
Before reading A Darker Domain, I had only read Val McDermid's Tony Hill series of books which are some of the most accomplished, intelligent crime fiction available today.
A Darker Domain started so well; excellent characters, realistic and comfortable dialogue wound around a well paced and engaging thriller. But it soon became clear that the secrets of her plot were unravelling like wool. Was Val revealing the conclusion purposely because there were twists to come or had she taken her eye off the task in hand and had accidentally let things slide? I'm still not sure, but I know that as a reader and admirer of Val's work, I felt let down. Lovers of crime fiction read such books because they like to play the role of investigator, they like to solve the puzzle especially when the protagonists/detectives can't, but we also don't want it to be too easy.
The device of using split viewpoints across different time frames lead to too many reveals and as a result this novel failed.
The ending, which has been noted by other reviewers as weak, desperately needed more detail and to be carefully paced. It was like she'd finished it on the bus...
However, I am still eagerly awaiting the next Tony Hill book due in the autumn because when she's on form, Val McDermid is a legend.
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on 27 May 2010
I have read quite a few of Val's books and they are normally clever and exciting. However this book was slow but not really in a bad way, more like an episode of Morse or Taggart. However the plot was very obvious and the ending a giant anti climax. If you are thinking of buying this don't bother, buy wire in the blood or something from the Tony Hill series as they are phenomenal and gripping. Someone else wrote the the ending was summed up in 2 pages, it was in a way but you didn't get to find out what happened to any of the characters with whom the author creates quite an attachment.

In short. a bit slow, and a bad ending. felt a little cheated of the usual amazing standard Val produces.
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27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 4 September 2008
They say form is temporary, class is permanent. So it proves to be with Val McDermid's new mystery-suspense tale which, after a couple of slightly disappointing efforts in recent years, shows that when the lady is on her home turf and writing in the way she feels most comfortable with, she's pretty much untouchable.

As most of the many characters are new, this could be classified as a stand-alone, a one-off, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that it could be the first (arguably the second) in a series featuring DI Karen Pirie, who appeared less prominently as a DS in A DISTANT ECHO. She may be physically very different but it's inevitable that comparisons will be made between her and McDermid's best-known female police officer, DI Carol Jordan who first appeared in THE MERMAIDS SINGING some thirteen years ago. If I had to suggest in what way they differ, it would be that Pirie is just that little bit more likeable, with a warmer sense of humour. The only other characters I can remember that appeared in A DISTANT ECHO five years earlier are DC Parhatka and ACC Lawson but the links are rather too tenuous to regard this new novel as a sequel, and the prominence or importance of the characters common to both tales has shifted somewhat. But anyone familiar with ACC Lawson from the earlier novel will doubtless be interested to learn 'how he is doing now'!

This is a very complex story but to summarise, it's a tale of Cold Case expert Pirie looking into the disappearance of a Scottish coal miner twenty-two years earlier, while in parallel to this a female journalist stumbles across a dilapidated villa in Italy containing clues to the unsolved murder of a wealthy heiress in the same year: 1985. It's a book without any chapters as such, instead the whole story is told in snippets leaping backwards and forwards in time, mainly between the mid-1980s and the present day, 2007. Although I couldn't do it myself, I would recommend anyone who has the time or capacity to read this story in one single sitting to do so if possible. It's so complicated and so full of characters and events that if it is read over a period of several days the reader might need to make notes as to who's related to who, who did what and when, and how the different story strands link up with each other. It's definitely a story that demands concentration for the best reward; a lazy reader might easily forget the significance of a date or event and as a consequence miss out on its eventual relevance much later. For example, the apparently meaningless opening paragraph needs to be memorised as it will have huge significance as the tale unfolds.

I sensed that there was a lot of what matters most (or used to matter) to the author in certain elements of the story. For a start, the locations in and around Fife, and specifically its tight-knit mining communities must be very important as Val McDermid grew up there herself, and it must be assumed that even today she holds deep-set emotions about the effects of the miners' strike of the mid-1980s. It's not hard to assume, either, that Mrs Thatcher - the British Prime Minister at that time - is not on Val's Christmas card list, indeed I felt slightly uncomfortable with the language used in both narrative and in dialogue to describe Mrs Thatcher, who at the time of this review is still alive albeit in very poor health. While I have no doubt that the emotions expressed regarding the plight of coal miners and their families is accurate and in no way over-stated, at times it did feel as if the author was using what is fundamentally a fictional tale to give vent to some of her own personal political beliefs. It was vivid and effective, but in the context of the story it had really very little to do with the key events of kidnap and murder, the events upon which the entire story is based. Definitely interesting and revealing, but slightly at odds with the plot.

DI Pirie is drawn into a missing-person search, but one with a difference. A woman with a son in urgent need of a bone-marrow transplant meets with Pirie and asks her to find the only suitable donor: her father Mick Prentice, a coal miner who vanished without trace in 1985. At about the same time, the kidnapped daughter of an immensely wealthy industrialist was murdered during what turned out to be a botched handover of a ransom, and her baby son, also kidnapped, disappeared and was presumed dead. This is the story that interests journalist Bel Richmond and which leads her to Tuscany as a kind of private investigator for the tycoon Sir Broderick Grant who has always wondered what happened to his grandson and heir to the fortune.

For the many familiar with the Tony Hill-Carol Jordan series, this is several notches down in terms of action and violence, but it does have some occasional touches of humour and certainly a high level of drama throughout. None of the characters have the enigmatic draw of Tony Hill, but overall I would say that of the five stand-alone thrillers that McDermid has written, this one stands second only to the magnificent A PLACE OF EXECUTION. An intelligent and convoluted plot, demanding concentration at all times just to follow all the countless threads, but rewarding the reader in the end.
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