Val McDermid is a first-class crime writer, and if you’ve yet to discover her fiction, now’s your chance. With her latest novel, 1979, she’s launching a new five-book series featuring journalist Allie Burns. Her backlist is so robust that she doesn’t actually have to write any books at all, but the fact that she’s chosen to stretch herself creatively with this story demonstrates what a pro she is.
For those of you already familiar with McDermid’s work, you’ll know her crime books can be a bit graphic. She loves forensics and rarely spares her readers any details. However, 1979 is a departure from all that. Yes, there are still crimes to be solved (a money laundering scheme, a terrorist bomb attack, and a murder) and as an investigative journalist, Allie solves them all—and grows in maturity in the process.
This pentalogy has been percolating in McDermid’s head for some years now, and when the pandemic hit, she decided now was the time. Her plan is to write five books spanning 50 years in Allie’s life. In 1979, Allie is in her early 20s and has just started her career at a time when very few women were journalists, and those that were, covered fashion, birth announcements and other stereotypically female issues. They also wrote up the stories that male reporters had investigated, but they rarely got a co-writing credit.
Of course, Allie Burns is having none of that. As she navigates the newsroom and the attitudes of her male colleagues, she has only one real ally; fellow journalist Danny Sullivan. Between the two of them, they’re taking on the establishment. There’s plenty of suspense to keep you turning pages, but to me, the real story here is Allie herself. Over the course of five decades, I’m expecting to watch Allie grow from the cub reporter that she is in this novel to one of the top in the field. She’s got what it takes, if only the patriarchy will let her shine.
Val McDermid is synonymous with Scotland, and 1979 offers all the cultural touch points readers love. If you like audiobooks, you’re in for a treat. This book is narrated by Katie Leung, who some of you may recognize as Cho Chang in the Harry Potter film series. Her accent is simply delightful.
The audiobook is narrated by Katie Leung whose Scottish accent is a treat to the ears.