Today I’m sharing my thoughts on 1979, the brand new novel from Val McDermid which introduces journalist Allie Burns to the world. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while, my pre-order in very early doors, but I was fortunate enough to have access to an early proof of the book from publisher Little, Brown so I could sneak in a quick read earlier this month. Here is what it’s all about:
About the Book
The shadows hide a deadly story . . .
1979. It is the winter of discontent, and reporter Allie Burns is chasing her first big scoop. There are few women in the newsroom and she needs something explosive for the boys’ club to take her seriously.
Soon Allie and fellow journalist Danny Sullivan are exposing the criminal underbelly of respectable Scotland. They risk making powerful enemies – and Allie won’t stop there.
When she discovers a home-grown terrorist threat, Allie comes up with a plan to infiltrate the group and make her name. But she’s a woman in a man’s world . . . and putting a foot wrong could be fatal.
I’d love to say I’m not old enough remember 1979 but I’m be almost lying. Almost. I’m old enough, technically, memories are a bit sketchy though. I’ve photos from around that era, but I can’t say I’ve got much by way of conscious recollection of the era, and as a toddler/mini human, in spite of holidaying in Scotland most summers around that time, I certainly had no awareness of the call for devolution or the IRA or an of the other moments of history that come to inform 1979. For me, seeing the past through aged and acutely aware eyes made this a very intriguing and engrossing story. Although fictionalised, much of what happens in this novel is grounded in truth, and taken from the very real history of Scotland at this time. It’s given the Val McDermid treatment, obviously, but combining that fact and fiction gave the whole book a kind of authenticity that you could almost picture it as more a biography than a work of fiction.
And maybe the reason for that lies in the author’s own experiences and history which are echoed in the book. This is the story of Allie Burns, a relatively new journalist, struggling to be taken seriously in a career, and a world, that is still dominated by men. She is a woman who knows what she wants, is ambitious and is clearly very switched on and with an eye for a story, as any good journalist should be, but pushed into producing the fluff pieces for the Clarion, the Glasgow based newspaper where she works. Stories deemed far more suited to her gender, if not her talent. Against the odds, she finds herself front and centre of two major scoops for the paper, one of her making, one in support of friend and colleague Danny Sullivan, both stories that will send shockwaves across the city.
I really liked Allie as a character. She is very down to earth, but determined. There were a couple of times when you have to wonder if her journalistic spidey senses were always working at full strength given she missed some rather clear signals about at least one of the people in her life, but when it comes to a story, she is absolutely spot on. She has a real nose for it, able to take a basic lead and find the real story at the heart of it. Intrepid, I suppose. Maybe a trifle cliched, but often used to describe an investigative journalist, and in this case quite fitting. Between them, it’s fair to say that Allie and Danny push the boundaries a little when chasing a story, but all for the greater good and it certainly adds a layer of tension and urgency to this particular story.
This is a slower paced book, a good deal of it spent in the setting up of the investigations as well as getting to know the key players within the story. That’s not to say that it is without the tension or the pace. It isn’t. The book is set at a very key moment in Scottish history, with the bid for devolution and separation from Westminster, with shadows cast across the story from the other side of the Irish sea, and the ongoing conflict between the armed forces and the IRA. Add in another story thread which could have been ripped from the headlines in the past couple of years, never mind the end of the seventies, a story of the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor and you get a really intriguing and compelling look into the world of journalism that will make you smile, laugh, pause and hold your breath in equal measure. There is also an element of murder mystery in this book, a story which becomes very personal for the Clarion team and which enhances the sense of threat that builds in the latter stages of the book. There are so many suspects, so many people with cause to hold a grudge against the victim, that you could almost play eeny-meeny to take a stab at who actually did it.
I’m really intrigued to see where Val McDermid takes this series. Allie is a character who has real potential to develop and grow, both in her career and learning more about her personally, and there are so many headlines and incidents from the early eighties that inspiration shouldn’t be lacking. You are really drawn into the heart of this novel with characters and stories so well fleshed out that they feel real. The fact that the author is able to draw on her own experience, coupled with her natural ability to spin a bloody good tale means I am definitely looking forward to reading more.
About the Author
Val McDermid is a number one bestseller whose novels have been translated into forty languages, and have sold over seventeen 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 Theakston 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, is an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford and a Professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand. She writes full time and divides her time between Edinburgh and East Neuk of Fife.