Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Out of Bounds.
McDermid’s Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie returns in another foray into the world of criminal investigation (after The Skeleton Road in 2014). As head of police Scotland’s Historical Cases Unit and assisted by Detective Constable Jason “the Mint” Murray, Karen struggles for patience with the young DC, especially during the long period of grief since the shocking death of her life partner, Phil Parhatka of the Murder Prevention Squad. Karen has kept her near-crippling sorrow and memories to herself. Wandering by night until exhausted, the only solace she finds is when sharing a fire with a group of immigrants in the hills. She learns of their troubles as newcomers to Scotland, eventually able to talk about her own loss: “She couldn’t talk to Jason, but apparently she could open up to a bunch of Syrian strangers around an elicit night fire.”
As always, work is a welcome respite from the long nights, sleep deprivation stalking her every hour. The primary case Pirie begins offers a welcome respite: a group of joy-riders in a stolen car ends in a fatal accident, leaving only one survivor, Ross Garvie. But that survivor’s DNA is linked to old unsolved case. Garvie remains in a coma, but his DNA is a catalyst for reopening the historical rape-murder of Tina McDonald two decades earlier. Unfortunately, there are complications: in the quest for more information to solve Tina’s murder, Pirie is forced to open the wounds of the victim’s parents and raise the ire of Garvie’s parents, who claim the cover of privacy laws to protect their errant son.
As is common for Pirie, especially at this very difficult time of personal crisis, another case sparks her interest. The possible murder of a mentally ill victim, Gabriel Abbott, appears to be a suicide. But Pirie decides to dig deeper into an investigation that isn’t hers, irked with the cavalier manner of the assigned officer. Gabriel’s mother Caroline, a popular theatre figure, was one of the passengers killed in a small plane crash in 1994, a bombing ascribed to the ongoing battle of the Republicans and the North Irish Factions. In her spare time, Karen examines other connections beyond the political, closely examining the lives everyone lost in the crash: “Murder doesn’t run in families. Unless it does.”
Political complications abound in Police Scotland investigations, Pirie not trusted by some of her superiors, who resent her solve rate and lack of proper demeanor in the presence of superiors. After an unfortunate leak of information on the Tina MacDonald case, Karen is called before her immediate superiors to account for an article spreading rapidly on social media. After a rigorous examination, with no evidence that she is the source of the leak, Pirie is put on notice. Both current and old bosses join forces to exact extra pressure as she goes about her investigation.
Fortunately, Karen has a vast network of loyal associates to lend support and supply the information she needs. Many of these people are also law enforcement professionals, some who have struggled against male domination in the field like Pirie. In spite of a critical error by DS Murray and his lack of critical thinking, Karen’s doggedness pays off--albeit with a close brush with death, both cases resolved. Some sense of peace returns as Pirie learns to navigate the future without Parhatka. Cunningly plotted, literate and deeply observant of the variables of human nature, Out of Bounds further embellishes McDermid’s reputation as an important mystery writer.