Winter 1963: two children have disappeared off the streets of Manchester; the murderous careers of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady have begun. On a freezing day in December, another child goes missing: thirteen-year-old Alison Carter vanishes from her town, an insular community that distrusts the outside world. For the young George Bennett, a newly promoted inspector, it is the beginning of his most difficult and harrowing case: a murder with no body, an investigation with more dead ends and closed faces than he'd have found in the anonymity of the inner city, and an outcome which reverberates through the years.
Decades later he finally tells his story to journalist Catherine Heathcote, but just when the book is poised for publication, Bennett unaccountably tries to pull the plug. He has new information which he refuses to divulge, new information that threatens the very foundations of his existence. Catherine is forced to re-investigate the past, with results that turn the world upside down.
A Greek tragedy in modern England, Val McDermid's A Place of Execution is a taut psychological thriller that explores, exposes and explodes the border between reality and illusion in a multi-layered narrative that turns expectations on their head and reminds us that what we know is what we do not know.
A Place of Execution is winner of the 2000 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a 2001 Edgar Award Nominee for Best Novel.
This superb novel should make Gold Dagger-nominee McDermid's reputation and bring her new readers in droves. It's December 1963 and teenage girls all over Britain are swooning to the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand." In the tiny, remote village of Scardale, Derbyshire, 13-year-old Alison Carter is envied by her peers because her stepfather buys her all the latest records. When Alison goes missing one dark night, Dist. Insp. George Bennett takes control of the case, despite being new to the job and the district. Other children have gone missing recently from towns and cities in the north, but somehow Alison's case is different. Although the police feverishly track down clues and organize searches over the moors, any hope that they'll find the girl fades as the days go by. Obsessed by the case, George is tormented by his lack of success and by the suffering of Alison's mother. Little more can be said without giving away key plot points, but McDermid spins a haunting tale whose complexity never masks her adroitness at creating memorable characters and scenes. Her narrative spell is such that the reader is immersed immediately in the rural Britain of the early '60s. She clearly did extensive research on how police work was done at the time, and it has paid off beautifully. The format of the novel is unusual, with much of it purporting to be a true crime book, but McDermid keeps the suspense taut, and her pacing never flags. This is an extraordinary achievement, and it's sure to be on many lists of the best mysteries of the year. 10-city author tour.