Review: The Mistress of Tartan Crime

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Val McDermid: The Mistress of Tartan Crime 

A book review of Broken Ground, published 2018.

Val McDermid is known as the queen of crime, a Scots writer with dozens of titles to her name. This woman is a master at plotting. In Broken Ground she interweaves two mysteries from WWII through to 2018 littered with fascinating factoids from heavy men in the Highland Games to body preservation in a peat bog.

McDermid gives a voice beyond the white male perspective with her Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie and a multicultural cast of characters from modern-day Scotland. She is spot on with the details of the police force, from their state of the art forensic labs, to their sly nicknames (the Dogbiscuit, the Weasel), and their aspirations from vanity to values.

She’s a mistress of language with bright and startling metaphors illuminating the tight weft of the plot. Characters rise whole from the page with “a face like an unsuccessful prize fighter” and “some strutting Glasgow keelie who thought he’d been sent to be their saviour.” Within the first 5 pages I had my dictionary out, keen to uncover the mystery of “a snell north wind” (piercing or acute according to Webster). The weather and the Scottish landscape, “jagged and savage”, drive the plot forward. My ear enjoyed the mysteries of teasing out the Scots idioms as much as figuring out the whodunit.

In the Highland Games of crime novelists, Val McDermid and Ian Rankin would have a tight finish at the Tug O’War. McDermid provides the tartan with authentic Scots dialects and history, and Rankin provides the whiskey with his dark complex view of Edinburgh laneways and human psychology.


Thoughtfully written on 5th April 2020.


Useful Links

Author Website

Publisher Website:

Image credits: Little, Brown Book Group

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