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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Terrific Thriller, 14 Feb 2004
This review is from: The Distant Echo (Hardcover)
This book is very reminiscent of McDermid's most successful book to date, the multi-award winning A PLACE OF EXECUTION. The similarity lies in the way the story is presented in two parts, the first half dealing with the emotion of the crime as it happens and the second half fast forwards to the present and deals with the fallout. In this case we are taken back to 1978 before completing the story in 2003. On the surface it's a simple mystery, a girl is raped, stabbed and left for dead in the small university village of St Andrews in Scotland. But as the story unfolds, the consequences prove that the tragedy is much more insidious and far reaching.
Part 1 of the story begins with four young men walking home drunk from a party, late one night. The men met on their first day of high school and have stood by each other throughout their school life. They have now moved on to university and have remained inseparable. They each have nicknames bestowed upon them and it is by these names that we know of them throughout the book. For the record, their names and nicknames are Alex Gilbey (aka Gilly), Sigmund Malkiewicz (aka Ziggy), David Kerr (aka Mondo) and Tom Mackie (aka Weird). During their walk home they literally stumble upon the body of Rosie Duff, a barmaid from the local pub. She had been stabbed in the stomach and was barely clinging to life.
Faced with the dying girl, Alex is sent to get help and finds PC James Lawson who raises the alarm, but by the time they get back to Rosie, she had already died. The 4 friends start out as the only witnesses to the murder, but soon become the only suspects, thanks to two facts. The police have a distinct lack of evidence and, while being questioned all four of them withhold information that they think is unrelated to the case and would only serve to get them in trouble.
Although they all insist they had nothing to do with Rosie's death, news soon leaks that the police had questioned them and people start voicing their suspicions. The rest of the first part of the story sees the slow disintegration of the boy's friendship as the case drags on with the finger of blame continually pointed at them. They have to endure malicious gossip and rumour as well as physical and verbal abuse. They even get to the point where they begin to become suspicious of each other and start to blame one another for getting them into their predicament.
It's in the second half of the book (Part 2) that the story really comes to life as plot twists are thrown in one on top of the other. It's 25 years later and we get to see what became of the four friends and how their nightmare experience has affected their lives. We also get a complete change in tempo as the style of story jumps from police procedural to that of a thriller. McDermid does a splendid job of feeding out a little bit of the murder investigation, which has been reopened as part of the Chief Constable's cold case review programme, while supplying an intensely thrilling subplot to keep things jumping.
THE DISTANT ECHO shows how easily a weak friendship can be torn apart under pressure, but at the same time it highlights the strength of true friendship. I found it to be compulsive reading thanks to its multi-dimensional story line. It's more than just a murder mystery, although it's a fine murder mystery just the same, it's a book that deals with relationships (all sorts of relationships, by the way) and their survival through all sorts of adversity.
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