With 1989, Val McDermid continues her latest series starring Allie Burns. In this unique sequence of novels – each set ten years after the previous entry – McDermid chronicles the life of journalist Allie Burns as she navigates the ever-changing landscape of the newspaper industry, highlighting major landmark events in both her home country of Scotland and the world at large.
Following the documented events in 1979, Allie Burns and her girlfriend, Rona Dunsyre, have relocated from Glasgow to Manchester to begin their lives together as a couple. Allie has given up her job as an investigative journalist to oversea a contingent of freelancers for a tabloid newspaper despite her belief that the Sunday Globe is more interested in sensationalism and gossip than hard-hitting news stories.
1989 begins with Allie Burns covering the memorial service for the families devastated by the recent Lockerbie bombing and ends with Allie uncovering a horrific scandal decades in the making – with stops along the way that expose corruption in the field of AIDS research, the crumbling of the Eastern Bloc, and the senseless tragedy that occurred at Hillsborough Stadium (to name just a few.) Both Allie and Rona are working for Wallace ‘Ace’ Lockhart – a Rupert Murdoch-like media mogul who once lost everything, built himself back up to legendary status, and will now protect his business – and family – at any cost.
Unlike most crime novels, 1989 isn’t interested in following just one case from beginning to end. This is a series where the true strength of the whole is fashioned from the interconnectedness of smaller pieces – a look at how society is altered not only by seismic events, but also by smaller seemingly innocuous choices. Allie Burns serves as the reader’s metaphorical Yellow Brick Road, leading them down a path that is fascinating, flawed, and ultimately redemptive.
Only a prodigious talent like Val McDermid would risk dropping a murder in the final seventy pages of a novel and then follow it up with a compelling investigation, several unexpected revelations, and a thoroughly cathartic conclusion. Lesser authors would have built an entire novel around that death and still not have managed to grab the reader’s attention and elicit such emotion from the proceedings. This is how one knows they are in the hands of a master of her craft.
In a fitting tribute to McDermid’s own past, 1989 contains multiple references to the expanding proliferation of female-led PI novels that inspire not only Allie Burns in the book, but also Val McDermid in real life. As she did in 1979, Val McDermid also provides a playlist of music designed to transport readers back to the late-80s.
Now that 1979 and 1989 have been released, Val McDermid’s Allie Burns series is shaping up to be one of crime fiction’s greatest achievements – both ironic and fitting for a sequence of novels that might not even exist were it not for the worldwide Covid pandemic. Fans will be hanging on tenterhooks waiting to see what Allie Burns’ life looks like in 1999, 2009, and the final book in the series, 2019. What everyone can agree on is that Val McDermid is most definitely the “wielder of the pen” we want to take us there.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.