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If you aren’t familiar with Scottish mystery writer Val McDermid, you’re in for a decided treat. Both longtime fans and newcomers alike will be able to jump right into the building suspense of Past Lying, McDermid’s seventh book starring Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie.
In April 2020, at the beginning of COVID-19 lockdown, cold case expert Pirie has formed a quarantine bubble in Edinburgh, Scotland, with Detective Sergeant Daisy Mortimer. The pair are living in a flat belonging to Hamish Mackenzie, Pirie’s current romantic interest, is currently in the Scottish Highlands, has bought a gin mill and is busy making hand sanitizer. Everyone’s a bit stir-crazy, including Pirie, who walks outside as much as possible, noting that Edinburgh suddenly feels “like the zombie apocalypse without the zombies.”
Pirie’s entire team is delighted—and increasingly intrigued—when an archivist at the National Library brings a strange document to their attention: an unfinished manuscript by recently deceased crime novelist Jake Stein that may provide clues to the well-publicized but unsolved disappearance of a university student named Lara Hardie. The manuscript bears uncanny similarities to the case, and seems to point to another popular mystery author, Ross McEwan, as the killer.
It’s the perfect case for lockdown, since the first step is simply to read the manuscript. But soon Pirie and her team are deep into an actual investigation, conducting (socially distanced) interviews and tracking down leads about both authors, as well as the missing student. In the meantime, McDermid has great fun dishing out knowing commentary on writers and literary intrigue.
Pirie is a probing, astute detective with a heart of gold and a taste for justice, even when she doesn’t get the support she needs from her superiors. Meanwhile, her relationship with Hamish is also on the line, so Pirie has plenty to ponder despite the world being seemingly on hold. Past Lying is another finely plotted Karen Pirie page turner that will leave readers wanting more.