Out of Bounds
Val McDermid
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Buy *Out of Bounds (A Karen Pirie Novel)* by Val McDermidonline

Out of Bounds (A Karen Pirie Novel)
Val McDermid
Atlantic Monthly Press
464 pages
December 2016
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Out of Bounds.

In a novel pulsating with gritty reality, McDermid's heroine, DCI Karen Pirie, truly anchors the story. Her steely demeanor only occasionally betrays vulnerability and a serious desire not just to catch a cold-case killer, but to provide a certain justice for his innocent victim. In her a double-edged whodunit, McDermid connects a familial DNA hit on an unsolved rape/ murder to the mysterious murder/suicide of Gabriel Abbott. A loner and a recluse, Gabriel was found with a gunshot wound to the head, the gun in his hands.

Paralleling Gabrielís death is that of Ross Garvie, whose life hangs by a thread after a terrible car accident. Rossís DNA has been tied to the 27-year-old murder of hairdresser Tina MacDonald. Tina was raped and strangled in Glasgow City Center in 1996. The problem is that Ross is only seventeen, so whoever left his DNA on Tinaís body all those years ago must have been a close male relative. At the time, the Strathclyde Police struggled with the case, admitting that they had compelling forensic evidence but no suspects to match it against. Now, with the discovery of Garvieís DNA, this first definitive lead may take Karen Pirie and her team at Police Scotland to the door of a man who has escaped justice for years.

In Out of Bounds, McDermid taps her usual narrative skill, framing Ross Garvieís cold-case investigation and Gabriel Abbottís suspected murder around the domestic and professional trials of Karen. Driven by irrationality and a paranoid instinct in the wake of the loss of her lover, Detective Phil Parhatka, Karen walks the streets of Edinburgh at night, an ďunfamiliar place that is laden with just enough memories to ambush her.Ē In order to take her mind off the constant the grief and pain, Karen navigates the city one street at a time, eventually finding herself amongst a rich stream of humanity--including half a dozen Syrian men who will come to play an integral part in the unfolding story. By day, Karen returns to the poky offices of the Historic Cases Unit, where Garvieís investigation moves forward thanks to the forensic scientists who routinely re-examine evidence from these old unsolved cases. Helped by the affable Detective Constable Jason Murray (as dexterous as he was quick on the uptakeĒ), Karen feels the familiar adrenaline rush of reopening a cold case as she begins to excavate the past for its secrets.

In a landscape where lives are distorted in one way or another by guilt and shame, Karenís investigative skills are piqued when old friend Jimmy Hutton tells her about Gabriel Abbott. Driven intellectually and also challenged by her instincts, Karen is never one to admit defeat. Plunging with passion into the investigation, she follows where the case inadvertently leads her, to explore the demise twenty years earlier, of Gabrielís mother, Caroline Abbott. A successful West End theater impresario, Caroline lost her life when the small plane she was travelling in blew up over the Scottish borders. The four people on board died instantly. The case looked open and shut, even though nobody came forward to claim responsibility. On the face of it, there was nothing to link the murder of Caroline with that of her son. Karen, however, is unconvinced that a so-called IRA terrorist bombing and Gabrielís up-close and personal shooting was perhaps just a tragic coincidence.

Karenís boss, the arrogant Chief Constable Simon Lees, is determined to make her look foolish and incompetent at every turn, but Karen dives forward. She eventually turns to lawyer Jason Semple for advice on adoption laws and DNA so that the two of them can begin to sort through the many legal quagmires of Garvieís complicated case. Through no fault of her own, she finds herself drawn into the puzzling death of Carline Abbott. Although this isnít her enquiry, and itís really none of her business, thereís something about Gabrielís life and death that has its hooks in Karen--as if focusing on him might put her own grief on the back burner, even for a short time. A sudden, shocking revelation from Ross Garvieís mother stalls the investigation, adding to Karenís increasing state of perpetual unrest. What seemed like a straightforward march to resolving a cold case turns into a multi-layered problem that Karen and Jason have no idea how to attack.

McDermidís talent is that she can link together all of the storyís disparate plot points with the complexities of contemporary police work. Because this is essentially a ďcold caseĒ story, McDermid strategically ties digital forensics and the latest DNA technologies to a clandestine love affair, dark deeds involving Gabrielís family, and the past actions of Frank Sinclair, a conservative MP who suddenly finds it hard to escape Karenís penetrating scrutiny. Again and again, Karen is stymied by her vague suspicions and the notion that there is any obvious way to get beyond ďthe circumstantial to solid prohibitive evidence.Ē The answer to the many questions raised by DNA is right in front of Karen even as many of the witnesses to both Gabrielís death and Tinaís murder see only what they want to see. Beyond the fact that DI Alan Noble, the lead detective assigned to Gabrielís case, is determined to make a lazy and unconvincing push for ďa suicide call,Ē Karen chooses instead to focus on the childhood of Gabriel, a boy who from eight years old seemed trapped in a joyless world.

While many of the secondary characters whom Karen solicits for advice sometimes convolute the novel and don't feel quite as essential to the main plot, they are important for providing context and depth to Karenís dual investigations and her frail emotional state as she tries to counterbalance the personal and the professional: her insatiable insomnia, her constant talking to Phil, and her obsessions with a case obviously outside of her remit. The end result is that it pains Karen to discover that, as Gabrielís past proves, real secrets arenít found in objects, in schedules, in underwear drawers, or in deleted texts, but are lodged far deeper, in photos and newspaper articles, and in the memories that are lodged outside of history, memories perhaps unavailable even to ourselves.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2016

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