1989 by Val McDermid

Today it’s my pleasure to share my thoughts on 1989, the second book in the Allie Burns series by Val McDermid. I’ve had the book on my TBR pile since last summer but as the book was released in paperback yesterday, there is no better time to be sharing a bit of the book love. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Owned Copy
Release Date: 02 February 2023 (Paperback)
Publisher: Sphere

About the Book

1989. The world is on the brink of revolution and journalist Allie Burns is a woman on a mission. When she discovers a lead about the exploitation of society’s most vulnerable, Allie is determined to investigate and give voice to the silenced.

Elsewhere, a ticking clock begins the countdown to a murder. As Allie begins to connect the dots and edges closer to exposing the truth, it is more shocking than she ever imagined. There’s nothing like a killer story, and to tell it, Allie must risk her freedom and her life . . .

The brand new unmissable, heart-stopping thriller from number one bestseller, Val McDermid

My Thoughts

I’m really enjoying this series. Whilst I can happily say I am far too young to remember anything of the decade in which book one was set, 1989 does provide somewhat of a trip down memory lave for me, if only for the sake of the music. As for all of the headlines and the momentous events which go to make up the emotional heart of the book – Lockerbie, Hillsborough, the Aids epidemic and the fall of the Berlin Wall – they are headlines I remembered but perhaps failed to note the significance of due to the fact I was a barely teenager and my priority was not watching Newsround (the kids equivalent of the News at Ten). Being decades older now, if not much wiser, their inclusion in the book makes much more of an impact, my awareness of them far heightened, and the way in which Val McDermid conveys them brings forth great waves of emotion – anger, sadness – as well as a whole lot of frustration at the ignorance that was rife at the time. Not my generation as such, but my lifetime. The only good news is that things have, to some degree, moved on and improved, but we’ve still got a hell of a long way to go.

From the very beginning of this book the author grabs our attention, setting out a scene that is packed with intrigue but the significance of which we will not find out for a very long time. It’s a murder, but in very slow time. We know what’s coming, but not the who, or why, of it. If that doesn’t catch your attention, then nothing will. From here on in we are drawn into the world of Allie Burns and the people around her, partner Rona, their friends and colleagues, and her media mogul boss, Ace Lockhart and his daughter, Genevieve. Beginning with the memorial service for the lives lost at Lockerbie when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up mid flight, this is just the first of many emotional, heart-tugging moments that make up the heart of the book.

This is where Val McDermid has really excelled herself this time, and why this series is able to make such an impact. No doubt with her own professional experience in mind, she has been able to convey the sense of loss and devastation that is experienced by families and friends. The scenes are impactful, leaving a mark on me as a reader, and yet keeping us one step removed. Allie Burns is very much a witness of events, there with the objective of capturing the perfect story or headline, but she is not fully distanced emotionally from the atrocities she witnesses. They start to take their toll. But although these very real, very memorable, headlines inform the story, with the exception of the AIDS crisis, they are not the sole focus of the story. But this blending of real life events, with a fictional investigation that puts Allie in great jeopardy as she journeys behind the Iron Curtain, helps us to become fully engrossed in the story. The scene’s we can identify with and those where we can sit back, and whilst not relax, at least wait to see just what danger Allie is in and how in the heck she can get back out of it.

I really like Allie and Rona as characters. I think I took a little time to warm to Allie in book one, but whether it is because the decade feels more relevant to my lifetime, or because there is an extra layer of humanity that can be seen in her responses to the senseless waste and loss all around her, something about her just really clicked this time around. Her partnership with Rona is built on trust, support and obvious love and this make them an easy couple to become invested in. Despite all of her differences with her employer, and her growing disillusionment with both the way her career is progressing and the almost gutter press priorities of her paper, when she sinks her teeth into a story, she is all in which I cannot help but respect. And there is that sense that she is driven by compassion and outrage at injustice, rather than simply for the sake of chasing a story which comes through strongly. In contrast you have Ace and Genevieve, two people intent on growing and maintaining their empire in the face of a rapidly changing political landscape. To them, Scruples is a 1970’s Judith Krantz novel, not something to necessarily be applied to business.

The pacing of this book was spot on, slower in the scenes in which reverence was key, where real life tragedies are featured, giving us as readers time to reflect on the impact of what we are reading. But, fear not, there is plenty of faster paced action, scenes where there is a sense of danger, particularly for Allie who looks as though she may have followed a lead to far. There is also a good amount of mystery and subterfuge and many a twist and scandal to be unearthed, as you might expect from any red-blooded journalist with the skills Allie portrays. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the mix of suspense, tension, melancholy and poignancy that infuses the novel. I am intrigued (and almost scared) to see what the next book might bring. 1989 certainly marked a turning point for Allie and Rona so as for what comes next, I can’t wait for Val McDermid to surprise and, no doubt, delight me. Definitely recommended.

About the Author

Val McDermid is a number one bestseller whose novels have been translated into forty languages, and have sold over eighteen 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’s 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.

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