Val McDermid has been thrilling readers with complex, fast-paced detective stories for nearly 30 years. She tells Chris Moss about her latest release, her 30th novel.
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” Joseph Heller’s famous line from Catch-22 could have been the epigraph for Val McDermid’s latest novel – her 30th, and her fourth to feature hyper-curious cold case rummager DCI Karen Pirie.
Already acclaimed by critics as well as fans, it’s a dark, knotty story that channels some of Scotland and the UK’s biggest social and political issues – including privacy, LGBT rights, immigration and mental health – and weaves them into a many-pronged investigation into a horrific traffic accident, an apparent suicide, a supposed air disaster, and a complex case of adoption and inheritance.
The author’s craft is there at every tricksy turn of the plot, but so is an impressively broad general knowledge and a clear passion for current affairs.
I’m in the business of writing about characters and am always driven by the story
“I never think about themes when I’m working on a novel,” insists McDermid. “I’m in the business of writing about characters and am always driven by the story. I’m a bit of a news junky and so it might be a news item or some fact I’ve picked up that finds itself in a novel. Often it can be quite tangential.”
The ideas for Out of Bounds, she says, occurred to her while she was researching her 2015 non-fiction book Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime.
“I was at a conference and two guys from Greater Manchester were discussing the ways to use familial DNA to uncover cold cases. That intrigued me. Families are seldom as simple as the image we have of them, and that got me.”
The novel is an exploration of the implications – for the victims of past crimes and for justice in general – that new kinds of forensic evidence can have when it comes to unearthing new facts. As ever with McDermid’s stories, the moment the reader is prepared to judge a character, the author turns the screw and forces us to reassess our prejudices.
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