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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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 5 September 2008
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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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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on 14 May 2016
I love Val McDermid and have read her books for 25 years or more. Whilst I enjoyed 'A Darker Domain', I don't think that it's one of her best. I'd pretty much sussed the 'whodunnit' and 'whydunnit' quite early on and after that it was just a case of her filling in the gaps.

I read the third of the Karen Pirie books before this one and thought it was excellent so this was a bit of a disappointment by comparison. I still haven't really warmed to Pirie as a character and I don't find her relationship with her colleague very convincing.

The story revolves around a cold case concerning a kidnap plot in which a wealthy businessman's daughter is killed and her baby son goes missing. In parallel with this, Pirie is looking for a missing miner who disappeared during the miners' strike back in the 1980s. This is a typical McDermid technique to tell two 'seemingly' unconnected stories at the same time.

Structurally I didn't like the complete lack of chapters. I'm the sort of person who reads in bed and likes to put the book down at the end of a chapter. This book has none. I also found the conclusion of the storyline about a young sick boy in need of a bone marrow donor read as if McD had totally forgotten she needed to fix that part of the plot and just shoved in a convenient extra character in the final paragraphs. Not very professional.
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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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on 25 September 2015
a good interesting thriller not for the squeamish and not a quick read.
Take it on holiday or hideaway for a weekend and keep reading.
have only just started reading her books and will now buy several.
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on 30 April 2016
Belle Richards discovered something that would surely boost her journalistic career to the next level. She was dreaming of it becoming the next big story. She recognized the puppeteer posters, hidden in a run-down Italian villa in Tuscany, for what they were – the tools that had been used over twenty years before to communicate with Sir Brody Grant, making their demands to release his kidnapped daughter and grandson.

Collaterally, we have Misha who goes to DI Karen Pirie, part of the cold case team in Fife, to report a missing person – her dad – he went missing 22 years before. She’s thinking that if she finds him, he may be a match for the bone marrow transplant needed to save her son who has a rare disease. If he’s found, she’s hoping he will agree to help.

The premise is awesome. It was enjoyable to watch both Belle Richards and DI Karen Pirie work on clues of two separate instances which would eventually connect. It took a while because instead of going to the police, Belle had taken her documents directly to Sir Brody. The police would stall the process, but Sir Brody Grant, who lost his daughter and failed to get his grandson back, would provide all she needed to move the investigation forward. The novel had a heaping dose of suspense and the story was told alternatively from the present (2008) and 1984. However, the ending, which dropped off like lemmings over a cliff, was a disappointment. It felt rushed, confusing, and failed to answer some of my basic questions. Also, for those sensitive to language, the f-word was used multiple times. Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
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on 3 November 2015
As usual Val gets you into the story. 2 cold case stories linking together, people changing their names, twists and turns, only to be spoilt by the story ending abruptly in just over 1 page. I felt the author had reached her deadline and had to rush the end.
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on 16 April 2016
A consumate author - excellent story line - fast paced and thrilling! Really enjoyed it - characters were totally plausible and identifiable. Another good read. McDermid is a consistently excellent story teller without being in the least predictable or repetitious. Recommend this to all crime fiction lovers.
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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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