Posted on

Bloody Scotland Blog Tour 2019 – Broken Ground by Val McDermid

Val McDermid is a number one bestseller whose novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over sixteen million copies. She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009, was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2010 and received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award in 2011. In 2016, Val received the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and in 2017 received the DIVA Literary Prize for Crime, and was elected a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Val has served as a judge for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize, and was Chair of the Wellcome Book Prize in 2017. She is the recipient of six honorary doctorates and is an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She writes full-time and divides her time between Edinburgh and East Neuk of Fife.

Reviews for Broken Ground

There is nothing more gratifying than watching a master craftswoman at work, and she is on fine form here’ – The Observer

‘Another stellar read from McDermid, and further evidence that her “Queen of Crime” status will not be challenged’ – The Scotsman

‘The masterly handling of the pace and plot, blended with brilliant characterisation, show why best-selling writer Val McDermid retains her title of new Queen of Crime’ – People

‘McDermid’s deceptively languid style, sly black humour and metronomic sense of pacing delivers a compulsively readable tale’ – The Irish Times

‘Her trademark combination of macabre suspense and a light touch keep you reading gratefully’ – The Sunday Express

Somebody has been here before us. And he’s still here . . .’

When a body is discovered in the remote depths of the Highlands, DCI Karen Pirie finds herself in the right place at the right time. Unearthed with someone’s long-buried inheritance, the victim seems to belong to the distant past – until new evidence suggests otherwise, and Karen is called in to unravel a case where nothing is as it seems.

It’s not long before an overheard conversation draws Karen into the heart of a different case, however – a shocking crime she thought she’d already prevented. As she inches closer to the twisted truths at the centre of these murders, it becomes clear that she’s dealing with a version of justice terrifyingly different to her own . . .

Excerpt from Broken Ground (Little Brown) By Val McDermid

Dr River Wilde had clicked on her last PowerPoint

slide when she felt her phone vibrate against her hip.

Whoever it was would have to wait until she’d finished

running through the week’s reading list for her secondyear

forensic anthropology students. The undergraduates

could find the details of the required texts at the end of

her online lecture notes, but River always liked to end

the lecture with a quick run- through. That way nobody

could claim they didn’t know what they were supposed

to have covered before their next session in the dissection



She zipped through the list at top speed then gathered

her scant notes and turned her back on the exiting

students to check her phone. As she suspected, the

missed call was from a withheld number. But there was

a voicemail. River would have put money on it being

from a police officer. Colleagues would know she was

lecturing; friends rang in the evenings when she was less

likely to be up to her elbows in cadavers; and because her

partner was a senior cop, they generally texted first to

arrange their calls.


Aware that a handful of students were still hanging

around near the podium, River tucked her phone back

into the pocket of her jeans and faced them. ‘Was there

something?’ she asked. Polite, but brisk enough to discourage

the trivial questions that one or two students

seemed impelled to put to her at the end of every lecture.


She fielded a couple of inquiries about dates by which

assessments were due, refraining from pointing out that

they were easily discoverable on the course website,

then disengaged, taking the stairs at a jog. When the

police called her, it was always a matter of life and death.

Literally, not metaphorically. For a forensic anthropologist

like River, the death was invariably in the past, the

life something to be teased from what the corruption of

the expedient grave had left behind. So while she didn’t

like to keep the police waiting, she’d never felt the need

for the performance of urgency and self- aggrandisement

that she’d witnessed in some of her colleagues. You didn’t

serve the dead by being self- serving.


The nearest private space was the mortuary. River used

her keycard to enter the secure corridor then turned into

the cool space where the cadavers were prepared for dissection.

Visitors were always surprised when they walked

through the doors. They expected to see bodies on slabs

being pumped with embalming fluids. But here there

was nothing visible to show that this was a place where

bodies were stored. The main part of the room was occupied

by large stainless steel tanks. Each was about the

size of an American- style fridge freezer lying on its back,

and the tanks were stacked two deep. Each had a serial

number slotted into a holder. It could have been some

arcane industrial food processing plant – a hydroponic

system, or a vessel for growing mycoprotein. The reality

was at once more extraordinary and more mundane.

Each tank held a preservative solution and a body. Over

a period of months, the bodies would effectively be cured

by the salts in the solution. By the end, they would still

be soft and flexible so that student anthropologists, dentists

and surgeons could learn their trade on something

that closely approximated a live body. River’s technicians

had even worked out how to simulate blood flow in the

cadavers. In her dissecting room, when a trainee surgeon

nicked a blood vessel, there was no hiding place.

That afternoon, there was nothing visible to even hint

at what went on there. River leaned against the nearest

tank and pulled out her phone, summoning her voicemail.

A man’s voice spoke clearly and decisively. ‘Dr

Wilde? This is Inspector Walter Wilson from N Division,

based at Ullapool. We’ve got a matter we need to consult

you on. I’d appreciate it if you could call me back as soon

as you get this. Thank you.’ He finished with a mobile

phone number. River scrambled in her lecture folder for

a pen and played the message again so she could catch

the number.


‘A matter’ meant human remains. Not a warm body,

never that. Those were for the pathologists. When they

called for River, it was because they needed someone

who could find answers in teeth and bones, hair and

nails. Unpicking a life – and often a death – from what

was left was her stock in trade. The university website

cut straight to the heart of it: Forensic Anthropology

is best described as the analysis of human remains for the

medicolegal purposes of establishing identity, investigating

suspicious deaths and identifying victims of mass disasters. It

is a specialised area of forensic science that requires detailed

anatomical and osteological training. Being able to assign

a name to the deceased is critical to the successful outcome

of all legal investigations. The squeamish thought there

was something creepy about her work. Not River.


Bringing the dead home. That was how she thought

of her trade.

River tapped in Inspector Walter Wilson’s number. He

answered on the second ring. ‘This is Dr River Wilde,’ she

said. All these years in the job and still, every time she

spoke to a cop for the first time, she inwardly cursed her

hippie parents. ‘You left a message for me.’

‘Thanks for getting back to me, Doc.’ His voice was

deep and gravelly, the Aberdeen accent still clear in

spite of having had the corners knocked off by time and

seniority. ‘We’ve got a body we need your input on.

It turned up in a peat bog in Wester Ross earlier this

afternoon. Based on the information we’ve got from the

witnesses, we think it likely dates back to 1944.’

‘And you want me to confirm that?’

‘Ideally, aye. We could use your help in trying for an

ID as well.’

‘When would you like me on site?’

‘Well, we’ve got it taped and tented, so it’s reasonably

protected. If you could get here for tomorrow morning,

that would be good.’

‘Where exactly are you?’

‘A wee place called Clashstronach. It’s about an hour

north of Ullapool, just this side of the boundary with


River thought for a moment. It was a long drive, but

she could set off within a couple of hours. She was due

to take a class in the dissection room in the morning but

one of her post- docs could handle it. Cecile had specialised

in the spinal work they’d be doing; she’d enjoy the

opportunity to strut her stuff. ‘Can you book me a hotel

room for tonight?’

‘No bother,’ Wilson said. ‘I’ll get you something sorted

in Ullapool, that’s handy for our office and there’s a

couple of decent places to stay. I’ll send you a text, will I?’

Two hours later, she was on the road. Four hours should

do it, she reckoned. Dundee to Perth, then there would be

clots of traffic as she left the city and struck out up the A9,

with its average speed cameras and long stretches where

overtaking was damn near impossible. But this wasn’t

summer, and there would be few tourists and no caravans

so once she’d passed Pitlochry it would be an easy run to

Inverness, then a final hour or so with added twists and

turns as the road snaked across the Highlands to the west

coast. She plugged her phone into the car’s sound system

and let rip with her driving music, an eclectic mix that

spanned the past thirty years of female rockers. It was one

of the few things that she and her partner disagreed about.

Detective Chief Inspector Ewan Rigston liked torch singers

who delivered big ballads – Adele, Emeli Sandé, Ren

Harvieu. Once she’d even caught him listening to Shirley

Bassey. River reckoned that was all the blackmail capital

she’d ever need with his CID team.

Amy Winehouse finished belting out her version of

‘Valerie’ somewhere north of Dalwhinnie and River

decided she needed some conversation. She cut the music

and rang the number of her best friend. She thought it

was going to shunt straight to voicemail, but at the last

second, Karen Pirie’s voice filled the car. ‘Hey, River,

how’s tricks?’ It sounded like they were doing the same

thing – driving on a fast road at speed.

‘I’m good. I’m heading up the A9.’

Karen laughed. ‘You’re kidding?’

‘I wish I was. This is—’

Karen interrupted with a bad Chris Rea impersonation:

‘—the road to hell.’ Both women laughed. ‘Funny

thing is, so am I.’

‘Really? Where are you headed?’

‘Elgin. I need to interview a woman who owned a red

Rover 214 in 1986.’

River snorted. ‘Has that been reclassified as a crime?’

‘Only when Jeremy Clarkson rules the world. No,

we’ve got a lead on a car that might be implicated in a

series of brutal rapes from the eighties. I’m checking out

the possibilities.’


‘Is that not what you’ve got Jason for?’

‘There’s quite a few possibilities and I’ve nothing else

pressing. Plus . . . ’ She paused. ‘Ann Markie has landed

me with another body. A Weegie refugee from the MIT

through in the west.’

‘MIT? Whose toes did he stamp on to end up with

HCU? Not that I see that as a demotion, obviously.’

‘That’s because you get it. The work we do, what it

means. Jimmy Hutton’s doing some digging to see what

he can find out. I wonder whether it’s as simple as the

Dog Biscuit trying to keep me in line.’

‘The Dog Biscuit?’ River knew there would be an


‘Markies are apparently a kind of dog treat. According

to Jimmy. Anyway, I think what she really wants is a

spy to see what rules I’m breaking. Like Leonard Cohen

says, “The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms

of the poor.”’

‘I thought you’d given up listening to that miserable

old man? Are you slipping back into the depths? Phil so

wouldn’t approve.’

Karen chuckled. ‘Field Commander Cohen was wise as

well as miserable. Anyway, enough of me. What’s dragging

you up the A9?’

‘Inspector Walter Wilson. You ever come across him?’

‘No, is he with Highland?’

‘Yes. Specifically, Ullapool. He’s got a bog body for me.’

‘Ooh. Anything for me?’

River chuckled. ‘You’re a glutton for punishment. But

no, not this time. Inspector Wilson’s information is that

it probably dates back to 1944. So even if we’re looking

at foul play, it’s well outside your seventy- year limit. No

reprieve from the red Rovers for you.’

‘So it goes. Good luck with it anyway. I look forward to

hearing all about it.’

‘Always interesting, a bog body. Up there in Wester

Ross, there should be a high level of preservation, given

the levels of sphagnum moss in the peat. We might even

get fingerprints.’


‘Aye, but what are the chances of meaningful fingerprints

from 1944? We didn’t even fingerprint the army

back then in case it put people off joining up.’

‘I know. But I still enjoy the challenge.’

‘I know what you mean. Like me and my red Rovers.

Anyway, if you can squeeze your bog body under the

seventy- year rule, I’ll only be a couple of hours away in

the morning.’

‘I’ll bear that in mind. But don’t hold your breath.’

Longlisted for The McIlvanney Prize 2019.

Winner to be announced at the Bloody Scotland opening night reception on Friday 20 September.

For festival tickets and information


Amazon Author Page








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s