Reviews > Published on December 2nd, 2014

Bookshots: ‘The Skeleton Road’ by Val McDermid

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Skeleton Road

Who wrote it?

Val McDermid, whose Tony Hill series has been very popular, even becoming a TV series, and won her the Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year. McDermid describes her work as ‘Tartan Noir’ - the Scottish crime fiction genre

Plot in a Box:

The Balkan Wars of the late 20th Century are brought back to life when a skeleton is found on the roof of an abandoned building in Edinburgh. DCI Karen Pirie has to untangle the web of events leading to this find and discover who the bones were in the process, while someone is dishing out vigilante justice, killing men suspected of war crimes.

A skeleton on a roof, war crimes, exotic locations - all in a days work for DCI Karen Pirie…

Invent a new title for this book:

I would call it: Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold

Read this if you liked:

Any of P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh books or Ian Rankin’s Rebus series.

Meet the book’s lead:

Karen Pirie is head of the Cold Case unit in Edinburgh, responsible for cases that are either unsolved or come to light after some time has passed. In her early forties and living happily in Fife with her partner Phil, another police officer, her dogged determination and sharp mind make her a very good detective. This is a new character from Val McDermid and first impressions are good.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

I could see a younger Kathy Bates play this role, with a Scottish accent, of course.

Setting: would you want to live there?

Ranging between the beautiful city of Edinburgh, the colleges of Oxford and the wilds of Croatia, there is a lot to choose from in terms of ideal places to live (well, perhaps not a small village in Croatia, but the rest of it is lovely).

What was your favorite sentence?

We’re lawyers, not detectives.

The Verdict:

This is a well put-together crime novel, but then I would expect nothing else from McDermid, who has written over 30 books so far. The Skeleton Road is a reminder in so many ways of the horrible events that took place in the years following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, ancient prejudices and grudges suppressed by the Communists brought back to brutal life in the series of wars and atrocities committed by people who lived side by side for so many years.

DCI Pirie is a welcome addition to McDermid’s repertoire, and the other characters involved are intriguing and fully formed. What I would call her other leading character, Maggie Blake, professor of geopolitics at St. Scholastica college in Oxford, resonates as a strong woman who lived through the wars with her Croatian lover, Mitja, a Croatian General and intelligence expert. Determined not to leave him, Blake does her best to help out when she’s forced to leave Croatia by collecting donations and medical supplies in Oxford during the conflict and taking them back to the war zone.

This is another well-written, thought-provoking crime story from one of the leading Scottish crime writers of the century. It reminded me of all the chaos and unbelievable events we watched (mostly in disbelief) take place in the former Iron Curtain countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It still horrifies me that people who lived and worked together suddenly remembered the hatreds their ancestors had ingrained in them and decided the best way to move into the 21st century was to kill their ancient enemies — or worse. McDermid makes that history an integral part of the story and it never feels like she’s just reciting historical events. I’m looking forward to more stories about DCI Pirie.

About the author

Dean Fetzer is originally from a small town in eastern Colorado, but has lived in London, England, for 21 years now. On reaching London, he worked as a graphic designer and web consultant before starting a pub review website in the late 90’s.

His current book series, The Jaared Sen Quartet is set in near-future London, but also encompasses historical elements, reflecting his fascination with missing artifacts and conspiracy theories.

Dean left pub reviews behind in 2011 to concentrate on his writing and to set up a new company offering publishing services to authors, poets and artists as well as blogging and writing book reviews on his website at He lives in east London with his wife and two cats and dreams (often) of a house in France.

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