The Distant Echo by Val McDermid, narrated by Tom Cotcher

After reading Out of Bounds by Val McDermid last year, I came away surprised to discover that she had a whole franchise I wasn’t aware of – despite having read all the books in the series. Karen Pirie, I assumed, must not be a memorable character. Well, after re-reading The Distant Echo, I’m letting myself off the hook a little. Karen Pirie appears here even less than Jane Rizzoli does in the first Rizzoli and Isles novel (although granted, more than the aforementioned Isles, who doesn’t show up until book two). Pirie is very much a side-character here, tasked with working a cold case murder from the seventies.

The Distant Echo centres on the murder of barmaid Rosie Duff, and the lives of the four students who find her body. The murder’s effect on the close-knit friends spans decades, and leads to bloody retribution in the present day.

Although I’m sure I have read this before, my only clear memory is of the opening scenes – a raucous group of Kirkcaldy lads all nicknamed after Bowie characters, tripping around drunkenly in the snow. The rest of the book is a blur. On this basis, I enjoyed it more than I expected to. The distinct lack of female characters may be why it didn’t rank high on my radar – although McDermid shoehorns in an obligatory lesbian, her entry and sudden emphasis is very much out of place and doesn’t feel organic within the story.

The crime itself is deftly plotted and well told. Means, motive and opportunity are all accounted for, and there’s essentially nothing here to dislike. The narration by Tom Cotcher provides an authentic touch of Scots (although his attempts at American accents are highly amusing!). As the beginning of a series it’s more of a backdoor pilot than anything, but it was still enjoyable to revisit.

[Read from 6-11 April 2017]

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