Still Life by Val McDermid

The dead body of a man is found on the Fife coast by fishermen. The victim is a French national, ex-Foreign Legion, and a jazz saxophonist.  But soon, things don’t seem to add up.  DCI Karen Pirie, the lead investigator for cold cases at Police Scotland, based in Edinburgh, is given charge of this live case, as it may be linked to another cold case she is investigating.  This enquiry is a sensitive political case related to the death of a Scottish civil servant working for the Scottish Office in London. 

This is the sixth in the DCI Pirie series by Val McDermid. This is a thrilling tale, with many twists and turns and McDermid changing the pace and feeling with ease.  However, completing a Creative writing course changed the way I read.  A good and gripping story is still essential but no longer the only criterion for evaluating a book.  I’m equally intrigued by the construction of the novel, its turning points, literary techniques, narrative arcs, and characterisations.  I now like to analyse every phrase and nuance to understand how the author has used techniques and styles to keep me wanting to turn the page.   And McDermid does not disappoint.  This is sumptuous prose, written with a fluid style, that employs all the techniques and rules of writing that I’m learning in my course.  It’s a tour de force of ‘show not tell,’ and I counted only two adverbs used throughout, a feat in itself.

McDermid uses geography and landscape to give foundations to the characters, which I found recognisable and authentic.  And her characterisation of Pirie, Daisy, and Jason provides contrast and depth.  I particularly like how she interweaved Scotland’s politics into the narrative and revelled in knowing and having visited the places described. 

This is a fantastic read made more enjoyable as it’s as if the reader is being floated along atop a magic carpet and lowered into the action at the critical scenes.  My only regret, this is the first McDermid novel I’ve read.  It won’t be the last.