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Crime fiction queen leaps ten years at a time

So many books, so little time

WITH more hours being expended on reducing the Bedside Reading Pile (BRP) even less time is free to deal with those  consigned to the Books For Review (BFR) category.

The BRP pile climbs relentlessly higher, while the BFR queue grows longer and longer. Far from a win-win situation, more one of loss-loss. Although reading rarely deserves to be categorised in negative terms.

Soon I’ll need a refresher course  on the BFR volumes before fair comments can be made. Plots forgotten, characters melding into a single collective gallery of goodies and baddies and all but the best finales gone from the memory box.

Urgent action is therefore needed to clear the bibliographic obstacle course covering my floor.

This post – and hopefully subsequent ones – is therefore an attempt to cut to the chase. A raid on the BFR backlog. Broad overviews rather than detailed plot descriptions and character assessments.

As ever, comments are purely personal. And reactions are those that strike when the final page has been turned.

Some are new (or relatively so thanks to the miser in me that insists on waiting for paperback versions).

Others carry publishing dates way back down the years. Titles that doubtless sit dust-covered and dog-eared on fellow readers’ shelves or were long ago passed on to charity shops or fund-raising jumble sales.

In the mix are a few from the last century – a scary but increasingly used phrase that explains why so many of us are regarded as bumbling ancients.

It was never thus when we all shared the same century. Common ground as it were – before an imaginary but nonetheless very real “wall” split us in two —  pre- and post-millennials.

And it is back to the 1900s that we go with a double-whammy from she who has been dubbed “the queen of crime” — although there are now numerous admirable other claimants to her title.

A  journo to marvel at

With 1979, author Val McDermid not only whisks us back more than half a century (there’s that tempus fugit theme again) but also introduces us to a new main character.

And also to what she promises will be a quintet of stories with ten-year leaps between titles. These will culminate in 2019, the year when Covid changed our lives (and thinking) for ever.

At the centre of the action is junior journalist Allie Burns. A bundle of energy and derring-do who resembles none of  the many journos of my acquaintance.

As is the case with the newsrooms and editorial bosses that she pesters and harasses in her determination rapidly to become what she sees a hot-shot investigative reporter.

One whose name is on everyone’s lips, bringing her scoop du jour to the nation’s breakfast tables.

As a fast-tracked uni graduate she makes an easy target for her older colleagues. But she also finds a kindred spirit with fellow tabloid hack Danny Sullivan and the women’s page  writer, Rona Dunsyre.

The sought-after scoop falls into her lap when she helps a woman give birth on a snowbound train aided by the solidly reliable Danny.

In no time at all they are unravelling stories that switch between money laundering (by Danny’s feckless brother), gun-running and a terror plot as Scotland stumbles towards it first independence referendum.

As ever with McDermid

She’s a busy lassie, but not all that credible.

Moving right along . . .

JUMP forward a decade to 1989 and we are still with ultra ambitious reporter Allie Burns. She is now  battling to save face and prestige as the northern news editor of the tabloid Sunday Globe.

Not exactly a position that she enjoys and definitely further down the pecking order than she believes she deserves.

Until recently she had title, position and prestige running the paper’s investigations unit. All that changed when the bombastic Ace (really!) Lockhart did a Murdoch by adding the Globe & Clarion group to his stable of newspapers and marking his acquisition with wholesale downgradings and dismissals.

Allie survives to remain on the payroll but is left reliant on a stable of freelance hacks and a diet of  salacious beat-ups and chasing stories about B-listers and soap opera actors.

The one bright light in her life has been the awakening of her true sexuality and coupling up with Rona Dunsyre,  her buddy and helpmate from when first joining the Globe newsroom.

True to those distant times and the attitudes that held sway, they are wary about going public with their relationship. Their initial solution is to set up separate households, with Allie in Manchester and Rona in Scotland.

This was also when HIV/Aids was sweeping the world, bringing with it fear of the disease itself and of those who succumbed to it. Suspicion and misunderstanding were everywhere. A whole section of society was left isolated, condemned and abused.

It was the time also of the Lockerbie tragedy when a terrorist’s bomb saw a Pan Am jet brought down over a Scottish village.

So much happening, so many intrigues, half-truths and deceits to be brought before the public gaze by a hot-shot reporter.

She is off and running when she uncovers an exodus of the gay community from Scotland to Manchester, lured south by better treatment and more tolerant attitudes.

Linked to this is the hint of  a laboratory battling bureaucratic  odds to come up with a vaccine to counter HIV and being forced to decamp to Holland.

There are battles to be fought with dogmatic news editors and the flamboyant flame-breathing Genevieve, daughter of Ace Lockhart and head of a stable of magazines published out of Lithuania.

And when a story breaks, such as the Hillsborough football stadium stampede, it is Allie who is first on the scene.

She is bloodied but unbowed when beaten up when door-knocking a former wrestler and insists on filing her story before accepting the treatment and rest her body needs.

And so it goes – piling plot upon plot, threat upon threat, one deadly encounter after another – all loosely linked by headline stories of the past.  A sort of “That’s How It Was” memoir of our recent history and with much minutiae of our daily lives.

The story flits between Glasgow and Manchester with detours to eastern Europe and Ace Lockhart’s fortress home on a remote Scottish island.

There is a musical backdrop provided by a playlist of  ’80s music plus romantic interludes when Allie and Rona scrape together some we-time amid the turmoil of their go-getting lives.

A nicely detailed trip down memory lane in the hands of a barely believable bunch of broad brush characters. High on action, low on credibility.


Crossing the border into a still chilling world
Being smart is a dumb idea

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stargazer says

I saw my library has these books and wondered about them. Your review has given me a better idea. Not sure they are for me, but might give the first one a try. With library books, I don't mind so much DNF'ing. Low on credibility - I guess that goes for a lot of crime / thrillers.

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