A Place of Execution

Review From User :

This was a thrilling, mesmerizing book. Partly an intense police procedural, psychological mystery and spellbinding court trial, it was brilliantly written. I found myself immersed in time and place. Most of the story is set in late 1963/early 1964. Then it moves to 1998 when secrets are revealed which could destroy lives if known.

Detective Inspector George Bennet, based in the town of Buxton, is the youngest plain clothes detective in the Derbyshire police force. He has been fast-tracked because of his educational background. He receives a phone call from a desperate mother, Ruth, who lives in the isolated, self-contained hamlet of Scarsdale. Her daughter, 13-year-old Alison Carter has disappeared. She was last seen walking her dog in the field after school.

At first, George feels excited. This could be a case where he could prove his capabilities to the Derbyshire police force. He intends to work diligently and by the rules to find Alison. As a soon to be father, he feels great sympathy for Alison's mother. He soon becomes so obsessed with the case that he barely sleeps or spends time at home with his pregnant wife. He works mostly with assistant detective, Tommy Clough, with further help from the local constable, police from surrounding areas, and volunteer searchers.

Scarsdale consists of a large manor house, about eight cottages and surrounding farmland. The manor was owned by a squire for many years. When he passed away it was inherited by a distant relative, Peter Hawkin, an outsider. The hamlet resembles a throwback to the feudal system. Hawkin owns all the Scarsdale cottages. The residents are all his tenants and employees. Everyone is related either by blood or marriage. These relationships; cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. were very confusing to sort out.
The complexity bothered me until I saw that the police were similarly confused. George even drew a chart trying to sort out family ties. In such a secluded community it was said that even people from 5 miles away were considered to be foreigners. They tolerated the police in their desperation to find Alison. They seemed forthcoming but there was also a suspicion that they were withholding some information. After a quick courtship, Hawkin married Ruth and became stepfather to Alison.

A search finds Alison's dog tied up in the woods, and a trace of blood on a tree. There were signs of a struggle. Later, an old woman informs police of the existence of a century-old mine and a series of caves, unknown to other villagers. There is an alarming find of clothing with evidence that the girl was raped and murdered, several bullets, but no body.

George Bennet discovers some very disturbing material pertaining to a perpetrator. A trial was held which kept me spellbound and frozen with suspense. The verdict could go either way.

35 years later George's son is planning a wedding. They have met with a woman who is writing a book about the disappearance, and he helps her get in contact with George. George helps with his stories, reminiscing about the search and subsequent trial. George is very cooperative, and she also manages to interview Tommy who is now retired and living quietly, working in a bird sanctuary. Most of the people in Scarsdale are reluctant to talk about that sad and terrible time.

When her completed book is ready to be sent to the publisher, she receives a letter from George telling her to never allow the book to be printed. Determined to discover the reason for George's sudden change of mind, she and Tommy visit Scarsdale. What they learn is shocking and twisted.

Winter 1963: two children have disappeared off the streets of Manchester; the murderous careers of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady have begun. On a freezlng day in December, another child goes missing: thirteen-year-old Alison Carter vanishes from her town, an insular community that distrusts the outside world.
Expand text… 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.

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