Val McDermid is a legend in the crime fiction world. She has written ground-breaking books, such as the Lindsay Gordon series featuring a lesbian lead character; the Wire in the Blood novels (her criminal profiler series that is often imitated but never duplicated); one of the most iconic crime fiction standalone novels of all time, A Place of Execution; and the list goes on and on. So, it might seem strange to say that she may be embarking on her magnum opus with the release of her latest novel, 1979, and yet that might just be the reality.
1979 is the start of a new series in which each of the four subsequent novels will advance one decade. In the end, readers will have five novels – 1979, 1989, 1999, 2009, 2019 – all featuring newspaper reporter, Allie Burns. It is certainly no accident that this means the series will end just before the pandemic hits the World – a dilemma all writers are currently struggling with. While it is impossible to predict what the over-arching series will look like, 1979 gives readers many clues about what Val McDermid may be trying to accomplish here.
While 1979 features a number of different crimes, it is so much more than a crime novel – it is a testament to its time-period, a snapshot view of our history. In many ways, it serves as a reverse crystal ball, allowing readers to see how society was and thus able to trace the “evolution” forward to how society currently is. It is also a hyper-accurate depiction of life behind the scenes at a second-tier newspaper of the day – and certainly, everyone knows that the journalism industry has seen seismic changes across the years.
Allie Burns is our lead character and the namesake of the series. In 1979, she is twenty-something-years-old and has recently relocated to Glasgow and taken a job at the Clarion newspaper. Like most women at the time, Allie’s assignments focus on “women-centric” stories, pop culture articles, and general fluff pieces, but she aspires for more, longing to prove herself and make a difference. When she teams up with Danny Sullivan, the only man on the newsroom floor who treats her like a human, the two begin to investigate and write about a high-level financial crimes enterprise. But this is not the only story they are working on together. During one of Allie’s information-gathering outings, she uncovers what could be a terrorist plot threatening all of Scotland. If she is right, this would be a story big enough to solidify the names Allie Burns and Danny Sullivan in the annals of newspaper investigative reporting stardom.
Val McDermid peppers the narrative with many authentic references for 1979. Everything from the music playing in the background, the books and movies the public are enjoying, and the news items that society was interested in – many of which allow for the drawing of direct links to topics of enjoyment and concern in today’s culture. Again, the crimes in this novel serve mainly as a backdrop for the development of these characters and a glimpse into their world. Readers will be excited to see how their favorite characters grow and change not only throughout this novel, but ultimately across the series as a whole. Joining them again in 1989, it is going to be fascinating to see where they are in their lives, how their “world” has changed, and what they are doing about it.
While it is too early to know where this series will rank in the crime fiction canon, the quality of 1979 ensures that Val is taking this project extremely seriously and if the next books are even half as good as 1979, readers will be rewarded with some excellent high-quality novels for years to come. Get in at the ground floor and join the cult of readers who are going to consider Allie Burns a friend, a guide, and a prophet of the past.
BUY LINKS: 1979 by Val McDerimid