A Place of Execution

By Val McDermid

Synopsis

In the Peak District village of Scarsdale, thirteen-year-old girls didn't just run away. So when Alison Carter vanished in the winter of '63, everyone knew it was a murder. Catherine Heathcote remembers the case well. A child herself when Alison vanished, decades on she still recalls the sense of fear as parents kept their children close, terrified of strangers. Now a journalist, she persuades DI George Bennett to speak of the hunt for Alison, the tantalizing leads and harrowing dead ends. But when a fresh lead emerges, Bennett tries to stop the story - plunging Catherine into a world of buried secrets and revelations. 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 reinvestigate the past, with results that turn the world upside down. A Greek tragedy in modern England, A Place of Execution is a taut psychological suspense thriller that uniquely 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 monstrous tale of deception, the technique of the telling is the greatest deception of all.

Year of Publication

Review

A girl disappears from an isolated village in Derbyshire, in 1963, a region already living with the fear of missing children.  Structured in two parts, this novel first presents a “true-crime” account of the investigation and trial”, and then, as DI George Bennett demands that the account we have read isn’t published, what we know is turned upside down. McDermid explores the difference between justice being done and the truth being laid bare. This is a taut, carefully-paced challenge to the police procedural, concerned with the malleability of our perception of  truth and how we choose to deal with malevolence. -- Philippa Cochrane