1989: an Allie Burns thriller by Val McDermid

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After a bit of a slow start, with many pages building characters and recreating issues and events of the late 1980s, the plot of McDermid’s latest novel does become more interesting as Allie, an investigative journalist, uncovers corrupt drug trials and begins to crack a kidnapping plot in East Germany. Not crime fiction as much as a depiction of the many issues of that era: the Lockerbie bombing, the response to the rise of AIDS, Western dealings behind the Iron Curtain, East Berlin on the brink of revolution, beginnings of climate change action, the Hillsborough football stampede. All of these events are viewed by a female journalist trying to assert her place in the demandingly competitive world commanded by media moguls comparable to Murdoch.

At the heart of the book, there is a mystery to be solved, and Allie is up to the challenge, ably supported by her loving partner Rona. It does all take its toll on Allie, and their relationship is stretched a little as their separate careers take them in different directions, to the point that Allie sounds like she wants to take a break from investigative journalism. But she’s said that before, and I don’t think any reader will be surprised if there is another Allie Burns story. Readers of 1979 and 1989 would expect another slow burn of a story, supported by a thorough research of the era depicted.

Themes: Journalism, World events, Iron curtain, Media empires, 1980s.

Helen Eddy