Book: A Darker Domain

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A Darker Domain: A Novel

Author: Val McDermid
Publisher: HarperCollins

Past and present intertwine in this rare stand-alone novel of taut psychological drama—a brilliant exploration of loyalty and greed from the bestselling mistress of suspense.

Fife, Scotland, 1985. Heiress Catriona Maclennan Grant and her baby son are kidnapped. The ransom payoff goes horribly wrong and Grant is killed. Her son disappears without a trace—until 2008, when a tourist in Tuscany stumbles upon dramatic new evidence that reopens the investigation.

Fife, 1984. At the height of the politically charged national miners’ strike, Mick Prentice abandons his family to join the strikebreakers down south. Labelled a blackleg scab, he’s as good as dead as far as his friends and relatives care. Twenty-three years later, a young woman walks into a police station to report Mick Prentice missing. Detective Karen Pirie, head of the Cold Case Review Team, wants to know why it’s taken so long for anyone to notice.

For Pirie, already immersed in the Prentice investigation, a second foray into a 1980s investigation gone cold—this time, the Grant kidnapping—offers an opportunity to make her mark. But it’s sure to come at an extremely high price. As she works to unravel these mysteries, two decades of secrets will lead Karen Pirie into a dark domain of violence and betrayal—darker than any she has yet encountered.


1984. The National miners’ strike is dividing the country, and in a struggling coal-mining town, the miners and their families are living at the edge of their resources. They have no money, and there is no food or heating. On the 14th of December, five miners break ranks to travel to Nottingham and work. For those who stay behind, this is an unforgivable betrayal, and the men are branded as scabs. 23 years later, a young woman is asking the police to trace her missing father: miner Mick Prentice vanished, never to be seen again, although money has been sent to his family; he was widely considered to be one of the scabs. Soon, D I Karen Pirie and DS Phil Parharta find themselves investigating a forgotten disappearance.

This is the provocative premise of Val McDermid’s latest novel, A Darker Domain, and this utterly compelling book is further proof that McDermid is determined to stretch the parameters of what crime fiction is supposedly capable of. McDermid has always been prepared to freight serious issues into her work, and this novel—which, in many ways, is an examination of the conditions that produced the Britain we live in today—demonstrates the continuing high level of her ambition.

In fact, Karen Pirie, when taking on this new assignment, is already involved in a case of kidnapping that took place 22 years earlier (in which a woman was killed during a bungled handover of money). Journalist Bel Richmond makes a startling discovery concerning the MacLennan kidnapping while on holiday in Tuscany, and as the three protagonists dig deeper into ever-more labyrinthine mysteries, they are to make some remarkable discoveries—discoveries which throw light not just on the crimes involved, but on the whole of British society.

As all of this might suggest, the stakes here are as high as one is likely to find in a crime novel, and Val McDermid demonstrates that she is as capable as ever of integrating the demands of the page-turning crime narrative with a discussion of the things that make society tick. McDermid fans who may be lamenting the fact that this is not another novel featuring Dr Tony Hill will quickly change their minds as A Darker Domain exerts its cobra-like grip. —Barry Forshaw

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