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The Distant Echo    by Val McDermid order for
Distant Echo
by Val McDermid
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Those who enjoyed the author's A Place of Execution (and they were legion) have a treat in store with The Distant Echo, which is in the same style but (IMHO) much better.

The first half tells a tale of four best friends, 'Laddies fi' Kirkcaldy'. These Edinburgh university students have known each other since high school, are aware of, and tolerate, each others' frailties, while still keeping a few deeper secrets. Their lives change suddenly after they stumble over a dying girl, while returning from a party. They try to save barmaid Rosie Duff, but are too late.

The four come under suspicion of the crime. McDermid lays out in careful detail a series of consequences - support by some, shunning by others, attacks by Rosie's brothers, revelations of personal matters the young men would have preferred to keep secret. One of them is 'born again', and one attempts suicide - with collateral damage to a police officer. The case is never solved and the friends must continue while 'a dissonant counterpoint to everyday life, suspicion and uncertainty gnawed away.'

We fast forward twenty-five years to the resurrection of this cold case, under the supervision of James Lawson, who was a young policeman at the time and is now a senior officer, the Assistant Chief Constable. It attracts the interest of Graham Macfadyen, Rosie's illegitimate son, who was adopted and never knew his mother. He wants justice, and revenge for the childhood that was taken from him - and he's very interested in the 'Laddies fi' Kirkcaldy'.

Alex Gilbey is now happily married to his friend Mondo's sister Lynn, who is expecting their first child. Ziggy is a Seattle doctor, Weird a successful evangelist, and Mondo a professor in Glasgow. The first to die is the 'rock', the group member who always provided 'the shelter that allows the weaker members of the tribe to grow into their own strengths.' Gradually the others begin to understand what is happening, get little help from the police, and initiate their own actions.

The author winds up the suspense into a volcanically violent ending, with a surprise that I only began to glimpse in the last chapters. Val McDermid is a master both of characterization and at keeping her readers guessing. In The Distant Echo, she gives us a combination of thorough police procedural and psychological serial thriller, that shows the rippling effects of damage done by suspicion. And finally she gives the survivors 'a future, not just the millstone of a past'.

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