Val McDermid has tackled some social history that is obviously very dear to her own heart in A DARKER DOMAIN, and it has to be said, she's done it with considerable style. Not only does this book give you a fascinating glimpse into the social chaos and personal pain caused by the Miner's Strikes in early 1980's Britain, it carries the story of three unfathomable disappearances.
Cold Case squad detectives DI Karen Pirie and DS Phil Parhatka are initially looking into the disappearance of Mick Prentice - reported missing 22 years after he supposedly broke ranks and joined the scabs in the devastating miners' strike of 1984. There's also the baffling disappearance of Mick's mate Andy about the same time. Unfortunately Karen's boss thinks that new evidence in the case of the dead heiress and missing son (and grandson) of a wealthy and powerful man is more important. Karen isn't all that fazed by pressure from on high though, and she's able to dance a fine line between both investigations.
The action in this book does take a couple of overseas trips to Tuscany, but mostly it stays within the small mining community of East Wemyss (a place that Val spent time with her grandparents as a child), and the way that the setting is portrayed in this book is wonderful. Not just the look and layout of the place, but the psyche of the place. The damage that the miners' strike caused, within families, throughout the community, the fractured lives demonstrated was really moving in some places, but at no stage did it become sentimental or overblown. There's also romantic element to this book which is also well done and quite funny. In fact that is something about this book which you wouldn't expect - there is a sense of humour amidst the sadness that lifts the story beautifully.
DI Karen Pirie is a tremendous character, with (hopefully), real possibilities for an ongoing series. An archetypal maverick police officer maybe - she's just not afraid to manipulate, defy and flat out be as devious as she needs, to do what she thinks is the right thing. Phil as her offsider is perfect, less emotional, equally as determined, they are a really good team.
An extremely solid and nicely twisting plot; a couple of very engaging central characters; an interfering and weak boss; a powerful man who wants to know where his grandson is; a daughter who needs to find her father; a wife who cannot forgive; and a sister who is grief stricken 22 years after the unexplained; there's an enormous amount in A DARKER DOMAIN. But at the base of it is a community that was destroyed - to the point where the abnormal was accepted as the normal, and there's no sign of recovery. Beautifully done, A DARKER DOMAIN is simply and utterly a wow of a book.