Book review: The Skeleton Road, by Val McDermid

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 December, 2014, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 December, 2014, 10:37pm

The Skeleton Road
by Val McDermid
Atlantic Monthly Press

Val McDermid pulls together a complicated tale of war and its aftermath for a plot that feels both intensely personal and global. The Skeleton Road moves at a brisk pace, giving attention to each of its myriad characters as the action moves from Scotland to England to Croatia.

Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie with the Historic Cases Unit - Scotland's official name for the cold case unit - is called to a decaying Victorian building where a demolition crew has found a skeleton.

The site is a favourite of free climbers who use these old buildings as their personal urban mountains. But this skeleton, which has been hidden for nearly eight years, has a bullet hole in its head.

Pirie and her team link the skeleton to Dimitar "Mitja" Petrovic, a general in the Croatian army who emigrated to England following the Balkan conflict.

There, he lived with Oxford University professor Maggie Blake, who met him when she worked as an academic in Dubrovnik during the war. Blake has never got over Petrovic, who she believes left her more than eight years ago to return home. The Skeleton Road gracefully moves from Pirie's investigation to Blake's life and her memories of the war and Petrovic.

Meanwhile, two members of an international war crimes tribunal also are seeking Petrovic as they try to find out who is meting out "rough justice" by killing people accused of war atrocities before they can be indicted.

Without being overly graphic, The Skeleton Road depicts the horrors of the Serb-Croat war during the 1990s, including both genocide and personal betrayal. Blake's war memories, which she chronicled in a highly praised book, delve into the personal cost of war while exhibiting the effects on a nation.

Pirie, introduced in McDermid's A Darker Domain, once again proves herself a formidable character worthy of her own series. The detective's personal and professional life add texture to The Skeleton Road.

Associated Press