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TOP 500 REVIEWERon November 11, 2008
This Edgar Award finalist and New York Times Notable Book of the Year is a beautifully crafted, intriguing mystery, with well-fleshed characters and an intricate plot. Quintessentially English to its core, this mystery will captivate the reader, not only with its plot but with the vivid imagery that the author skillfully conjures for the reader. Filled with a myriad of twists and turns, this book will keep the reader riveted to its pages.

In the winter of 1983, a thirteen year old girl, Alison Carter, out for a walk with her dog, suddenly vanishes from her sleepy, insular English hamlet. Although there is no corpse, an unexpected discovery in a local cave brings George Bennett, the young Inspector assigned to the case, to an inevitable conclusion, leading to an arrest. Despite its resolution, this case will continue to haunt Inspector Bennett for decades to come.

When journalist Catherine Heathcote decides to write a book about the Derbyshire murder case, the now retired George Bennett fully cooperates until the eve of publication, when he suddenly requests that the book not be published for reasons that he refuses to share with Ms. Heathcote. Suddenly, the intrepid journalist senses that there is more to this story than meets the eye, and she sets out to unravel the secret of what really happened to Alison Carter in the winter of 1963. It is a journey of discovery that will fascinate the reader.

Those who enjoy beautifully written, well-plotted mysteries will simply love this highly atmospheric book. The author is clearly a superlative writer, with real talent for writing intricately plotted mysteries, while creating memorable characters. Bravo!
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on May 3, 2002
Remember when the food and drink naming trend began? The trend of reaching for increased verisimilitude in novels by describing the exact nature of the nourishment consumed by the characters? The protagonist didn�t just discuss something over an undefined dinner. He or she spoke while ingesting sweetbreads smothered in a delicate sauce of�well you get the picture. In �A Place of Execution� we are informed every time that a character smokes a cigarette. Not only are we enlighted about the lighting up ceremony, but we are also told the brand of the cigarette, and kept abreast of events by updates on ash flicking, inhaling and stub extinguishing. Not that this makes for an unworthy novel; its just odd that Ms McDermid has decided to spend so much time on this particular vice. My hunch is that the author had just given up smoking when writing the novel, and that she is smoking vicariously through her characters.
The novel concerns a young girl who has disappeared from her home in a tiny, secluded town in England. Police Inspector George Barnett is in charge of the case and a dedicated man he is. He devotes most of his time in trying to find young Alison, and we readers share the effort being dragged through hill and dale in the search. The townspeople, being very secluded, would be good candidates for biological research in the investigation of the genetic effects of inbreeding. They are horrified about Alison�s disappearance, yet are strangely uncooperative with the police. Yet the diligence of George�s intensive search while smoking pack after pack of cigarettes pays off. Someone is arrested for the crime, and is convicted of murder. Then we jump 30 years and find new information about the disappearance that is quite disconcerting. While reading the book a strange thought kept creeping into my mind, a thought that later proved accurate. Will you guess the answer to the mystery? Read the book and find out. It�s quite entertaining.
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on March 3, 2002
Quality Mystery
Val McDermid brings us face to face with some disturbing issues in her book A Place of Execution. A child's disappearance is always unsettling and McDermid's novel about young Allison Carter vanishing from the closed community of Scardale is most disturbing. McDermid's tale is one which brings to light questions of justice and vengeance as well as providing the reader with a quality mystery story
Chief Inspector George Bennett and Detective Sergeant Tommy Clough join forces in their search for the missing 13 year-old. Both men are interesting characters who have an innate sense of justice and a strong desire for Allison to be returned to those she loves. The residents of the hamlet of Scardale, where young Allison is from seem determined to put obstacles in the way of the detectives. All residents are related to each other and seem to know each other's business, but when the need to be truthful and honest is so vital they seem to be less than forthcoming. This in itself is a mystery, because Allison is a well loved and valued member of the community. It is odd that Scardale would be so distrustful of strangers as to disrupt the investigation.
While this book is a stand alone the team of George Bennett and Tommy Clough are an intriguing pair. Bennett a young and inexperienced detective is sincere and idealistic in his goals. George has a sympathy for the victim which is appealing and honest. Tommy Clough is a seasoned veteran who seems impossible to fool and as such is a valuable asset to George in his search for the truth in Scardale.
There are sufficient clues for the experienced mystery readers to guess some of the story, but even for them, there should be some surprises in store.
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on January 31, 2002
Val McDermid sets "A Place of Execution" in Scardale, a fictional village in Derbyshire, England. The year is 1963. One day, thirteen-year-old Alison Carter comes home from school and takes her dog out for a walk. She is not seen again. Several other children have been abducted in the area of late, and Alison's disappearance soon rings alarm bells. The police are called in to investigate.
Detective Inspector George Bennett, who has never run a homicide investigation before, takes charge of the case. Bennett finds, much to his consternation, that this case will take him away for many hours from his young and lovely wife whom he adores. It will also plunge him into fits of doubt and despair that drive him to smoke endlessly and to stay up at night, worried and sleepless.
One problem is that the villagers of Scardale, who are all related to one another by blood, do not trust outsiders. They refuse to open up to Bennett and they seem to be obstructing, rather than aiding, the investigation. Another problem is that there is little physical evidence to guide the police. The investigation takes many twists and turns, some of which are quite startling.
The inside flap of this book calls "A Place of Execution" a Greek tragedy and that is an apt description. It is a story of people destroying one another with no one really winning in the end. The characters are beautifully drawn. Detective Inspector Bennett is a model of rectitude and compassion. Alison's mother, Ruth, is a grief-stricken wreck, and Alison's stepfather, Philip Hawkin, is devious and irritatingly nonchalant when his stepdaughter disappears. McDermid captures the physical and emotional ambiance of a small English village perfectly and her sense of time and place is impeccable.
However, "A Place of Execution" falls short in several areas. The pacing is too slow. Many pages go by when little or nothing happens, and a little judicious editing would have helped. The ending should have been exciting, but since it took so long in coming, the denouement is a bit anticlimactic. Although the book seems to have as one of its themes the exploration of guilt and moral ambiguity, when the truth is finally revealed, there is little ambiguity. "A Place of Execution" is an ambitious psychological thriller that only partially succeeds in delivering a strong emotional impact.
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on January 30, 2002
Set in England in 1963, this British thriller is anything but a "cosy". Thirteen year-old Allison disappears while walking her dog in the strange, insular and perhaps incestuous village of Scardale. Detective Inspector Bennett, assigned to the case, plunges in and gets to know the villagers, their lives and concerns. Despite his best efforts, neither Allison or her body can be found. Bennett becomes consumed with the case and cannot rest until he finds Allison for her mother. Villagers seem to be both secretive and concerned about Allison, making the job more difficult for police. Clues such as where she could have been abducted and possibly murdered do unfold and point to her stepfather as the suspect.
The novel comes in parts and Part 2 begins when a novelist documents the case 30 years later. Although the crime had been "solved" 30 years earlier, the story and nightmare begin again when Bennett collapses with a heart attack after making a horrible discovery.
A gripping, taut story with intriguing characters and a plot where things are not what they seem. This is my favorite book of 2001.
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on January 11, 2002
This is my first Val McDermid novel and it definitely will not be my last. When I finished reading the book I had to take a breather to take in everything that happened in this story. It is thought provoking and disturbing.
It is December 1963. George Bennett, a newly promoted inspector, is sent to Scardale, a small hamlet in England, to investigate the disappearance of 13-year-old Alison Carter. Since this is Inspector Bennett's first case, he hunts high and low trying to find the whereabouts of the missing teenager. Everybody in town is very protective and they do not make the investigation easy for the police. They do not volunteer any information and one gets the feeling that everybody in town knows something that we do not. After a week's investigation, the police find evidence that suggests that Alison was raped and murdered.
Shortly thereafter, an arrest is made. The suspect is convicted and punished even though he claims to be innocent. Alison's body was never found but they still managed to find the suspect guilty. This could easily have been the end of the book but it is only the first three-quarters of the novel.
In the last quarter of the book thirty-five years have already passed. Catherine Heathcote, a journalist, manages to get George Bennett, now retired, to participate in a true crime book about the murder of Alison Carter. He agrees and collaborates in the writing of the book. It is not until the last possible moment that Bennett asks Heathcote not to publish the book. During a recent visit to Scardale he uncovered some new evidence that brings a whole lot of questions regarding the crime. He refuses to say anything more regarding the case.
Heathcote, not easily swayed, investigates. Her discovery has serious repercussions to a lot of people involved in McDermid's work. This is what make the book great and why I put it in my highly recommended list.
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on January 10, 2002
A friend told me about this book. He gave me the sense it was a novel that I would remember vividly for a long time. He was so right!
The village of Scardale, UK is the setting for this rich, gripping, vivid story about a 13 yr. old girl gone missing, presumed dead. And why not? All the evidenced points that way. But that is not all that drove me to stay up late, read while standing in lines and neglect responsibilities.
The is a wonderfully written story, a tribute to this author, who has written several books (This won't be the last one I read, for sure).
The novel unfolds deliberately and with increasing bits of information and descriptive that pulled me in. The English grammar was especially a treat (nowt, lass, etc.). I wondered how this would turn out. I never expected the ending I got. Stunning. Every page of this novel seemed to offer something delicious. Whether it was a character description, the details of a scene or the dialogue amongst the characters, I found this novel abundant with powerful elements. Feelings were evoked.
I found my breathing was arrested on occasion. What was the last book that did that to you? This novel is haunting. Don't miss it!
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on January 4, 2002
This book was a Christmas Gift last year from my mother who knows I like nothing better than a good thriller. She had viewed an interview with the author and thought I would enjoy the story since it took place near Manchester. My husband is from Manchester and we were heading there for the holidays.
From the moment I boarded our flight I could not put this book down. McDermid is a real pro! Her knowledge of the area is impecable, her characters are alive and her story just engrosses you. A real page turner with a twist you won't expect. She weaves her tale in with real crimes that happened at that time and you never really know if this is a true story or one she just came up with. Either way, she is a brilliant author.
As a result I have sought after her earlier works and devoured them all. If you love mysteries and thrillers you will love everything she has written. However, A Place of Execution is the book that sets her ahead of the pack! She is a true master of the genre.
Scardale doesn't really exsist, but if you head up to the Buxton and Castleton areas in the Peak District south of Manchester, where the book is set, you have to wonder... I know I did!
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on November 25, 2001
Ms. McDermid gives us a real "stand-alone." Not only is it not a serial mystery, it can be read as a complex novel by the non-mystery lover. The characters are out of the ordinary and multifaceted. The locale is an integral part of the tale and never far from our mind. There are many players, yet the author makes each so distinctive, the reader never has the dismaying problem of trying to remember who is who and why are they are appearing or disappearing.
The inbred inhabitants of Scardale may have some genetic degeneration, but lack of shrewdness isn't one of them. Also their ability to close ranks when one of their own is threatened is awe-inspiring. I felt there was a little too much agonizing and soul searching on the part of George Bennett, the newly minted Detective Inspector on the case; however, his doggedness was presented well. He was both appealing and exasperating. There were a few clunky clues, and I had a strong suspicion of the guilty party, but was mystified throughout as to how the author was going to resolve the mystery.
Recommend this thoughtful, exciting book for anyone, particularly a "cozy" lover who would like to expand his or her horizons.
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on November 10, 2001
Val McDermid's A Place of Execution was the page-turner it promised to be from page one. It was also extremely well-written beyond any expectation one way or another. The reader goes back to the early 1960's in a small English county where a young teenaged girl goes missing and inexplicably is never found after an exhaustive search. If any of you were born in the late 1940's or early 1950's in the UK or Canada, you will immediately sense the time, if not the place, and the social climate of our early years.
There is something about this story that rings so hauntingly true, I am still not at all certain that it is was not based on a true crime case. We start with the first reports of Alison Carter disappearing from the hamlet of Scardale, an English village that knocks any sense of cozy right out of the mystery fan reader's head. The folks of Scardale are tough, sober, stand-a spoon-in-it tea swillers, industrious, enterprising, and above all, heroic preservationists of the town's ancient way of life. It becomes truly laughable that most of the people of the surrounding towns think that Scardale folks are nothing but inbred, drooling dolts, destined for no better than a circus sideshow.
It is no wonder that investigators George Bennett and Tommy Clough are so beset with exponential frustrations above and beyond any criminal case let alone a baffling missing person's case. These investigators are put through a meat grinder emotionally and professionally every working and private moment and on into the years after the case is formally closed. For these men, the case is never closed. They both have different issues and reasons for remaining so unsettled about the outcome of the case, but it has equally devasting consequences for the remainder of their adult lives.
Back to the scene of the crime. Enter, the evil stepfather. McDermid's characterization of the loathesome Philip Hawkins is so finely wrought that he could serve as a textbook model of the advanced pederast. The Scardale folks are not pleased to have him as their new Squire and landlord. They loved the old Squire, Philip's deceased uncle, and do not trust this outsider with his matinee idol good looks and city-bred ways. That's what we think and that's what the police think. And that is the beauty of this tale.
It is all a case of mistaken identity, six ways from Sunday, dear readers. Those inbred idiots of Scardale knew how to get justice and in a manner that can only be described and praised as Machiavellian. Read on. Val McDermid's genius is revealed, not in the surprise quality of the ending, the in the collective social justice that the ending reveals.
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