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Book Review: A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

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With A Darker Domain, Scottish author Val McDermid boldly steps away from her famous Tony Hill series to deliver a brand new standalone psychological thriller/mystery filled with mystery, betrayal and darkness.

When Michelle Gibson reports that her father, Mick Prentice, is missing, it captures the attention of cold case P.I. Karen Pirie – especially when Michelle (aka Misha) explains that her father disappeared 22 years ago during the now-infamous 1984 miners' strike. Even though the rest of the police force isn't too interested in a 22-year-old cold case with no new evidence, Karen decides to investigate Prentice's disappearance without the department's approval.

Meanwhile, as part of an official investigation, Karen meets with the wealthy and influential Sir Broderick Maclennan Grant, whose daughter, Catriona, and baby grandson, Adam, were abducted in 1985 by an anarchist group. A botched ransom hand-off left Catriona dead and Adam nowhere to be found. However, new evidence has surfaced in the case and Karen, the cold case guru, is asked to find yet another missing person.

McDermid's writing skills shine through in every sentence and every word of this beautifully written novel. Readers will feel like they are experiencing the turmoil and confusion of these two stories firsthand. Written against a fascinating backdrop and spanning over two decades, McDermid paints a perfect, realistic picture of the characters' lives and makes the miners' strike accessible to readers who are both familiar and unfamiliar with the event.

As the mystery unfolds, a link is forged between the two stories. However, this link feels forced and just a little too perfect. While the story is full of complex sleuthing and intelligent storytelling, the end came together just a little too well and, seemingly, in a way that was far too easy. After reading such a thoroughly thought-out story, the ending hits the reader with an unexpected thud – just after they hit their stride.

Readers should also be aware that A Darker Domain is set up differently than the traditional novel. Instead of being separated into chapters, McDermid separates the novel by dates and locations -constantly jumping between current events, past events, the U.K., and Italy. This method can be a little confusing at first, but it definitely keeps readers on their toes. This just proves that to get the most of this book, you absolutely must pay attention.

I've never had the opportunity to read any of McDermid's other novels before, and I wouldn't say that this one has gotten me hooked. It was an enjoyable, wonderfully written read that started out with so much promise – but failed to adequately deliver on that promise at the end.

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