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A Place of Execution

by Val McDermid

Publishers Weekly : 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. (Sept. 20)

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