Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines's take on Late in the Day.
Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie of Scotland's Historical Cases Unit hopes her working life has changed for the better with the arrival of DS Sergeant McCartney, "a new pair of hands," and with the promotion of the new Assistant Chief Constable Ann Markle. She had hoped for a less complicated relationship with Markle, considered to be "the glamorous face of Police Scotland." Karen still relies on Detective Constable Jason "the Mint" Murray and her Gin Nights, a mutual support group that has helped after the death of her lover and fellow police officer, Phil Parhatka.
Even with the challenges at work, nothing halts Karen's ambition to clear cases that everybody else has given up on and give answers to people who have waited far too long to find out who blew a hole in their lives and why. Karen's latest fact-finding mission centers on a discovery on land owned Hamish Mackenzie, a local Highland crofter, employed by Alice and Will Summerville to find Alice's granddad's hidden treasure: a couple of motorbikes he buried at the end of World War II. After much searching, the bikes are found in the peat bogs of Wester Ross.
In what looks like a coffin, the Indian 74 motorcycles are still complete with twin leather panniers and as clean as the day they were cocooned. The bigger surprise is the discovery of a perfectly preserved body. Enter forensic anthologist Doctor River Wilde, who tells Karen that based on the formation she's got from the witnesses, "the body likely dates back to 1945" and has been aided by the preservative powers of peat. Either way, Karen is told that the bike crates have been in the ground since 1944. There's no an issue of any damaging or disturbing evidence from an "alive case."
The investigation unfolds on various tracks, beginning with the identity of the body in the bog coupled with Karen's realization that she can't single-handedly conduct a case on this scale. She also doesn't want to abandon a secondary rape case that involves a series of inquiries about a red Rover automobile. She doesn't trust that Markie isn't looking over her shoulder--not even at remove (and in a sublot that makes the novel over-long). She is blindsided by a domestic violence case that she has inadvertently interfered with.
Karen knows there's a mystery American woman at the heart of the case, and that it is somehow connected to local philanthropist Willow Henderson and to Austin Hinde, Alice's grandad, as well as a local man called Kenny Pascoe who died in Warkworth in 1946 and is somehow linked to Austin, the motorbikes, and to Joey Sutherland, the bodybuilder found in the peat bog. Markie is clearly trying to get Karen out of the HCU so she can put in one of her men and take credit for the cases the unit clears.
Historical cases are not like live ones, relying on fragile links to build a chain of evidence. But Police Scotland is under huge pressure--from politicians, the public and the media. It is left up to Karen and Jason to prevent the unit from becoming tainted. Karen has no illusions about Hamish's Mackenzie's prosaic charms. He remains a key witness in a murder case, so she'd be a fool if she didn't consider the possibility that Hamish might be trying to throw sand in her eyes. There is also the wider issue of Shirley O'Shaughnessy and her business ambitions. McDermid excavates her characters' pasts to reveal the truth stretching from Nazi Germany's end to post-war middle America and back to the present-day Scottish Highlands. And all her characters have the inner steel to turn their back on the seductions in what seems the easy way out.
Though the book is longwinded (getting rid of the two sublots would not have altered the impact of McDermid's central story), the ending is everything we have come to expect from a Karen Pirie novel. As the peat bog's far-reaching secrets are exposed and a nefarious character finally gets her comeuppance, Karen is a joy to follow as McDermid whirls us through her life, and always does it well.