I just finished a great read. Despite the busy schedule, I’m glad that I have still managed to read a suspense, investigative, puzzling novel. I bought the novel last month, though I have not read it until last Friday, for 25 pesos in a book sale. What caught my attention were the numerous commendations the novel received from publishers and famous novelists. It was even a finalist of the Edgar Allan Poe Award.
“A place of execution” by Val McDermid is certainly a deliciously gruesome serial killer thriller. One jaw-dropping suspense after another. An extraordinary story told with extraordinary skill. Absorbing…riveting…bristles with authenticity and tension…far more than a straightforward detective novel.
A place of execution shows a devastating form. It’s a chilling, elegiac, and elegant piece of writing, as past and present, secrets and tensions, collide in a remorseful countryside. It is a terrific, tight, atmospheric page-turner of a novel with a knockout ending I did not see coming…I could not put it down.
On a freezing day in December 1963, 13-year-old Alison Carter vanishes from her village. Nothing will ever be the same for the inhabitants of the isolated English countryside—Scardale. George Bennett is determined to solve the case—even if it is just to bring home a daughter’s dead body to her mother.
Ruth, Alison’s mother, called the police since her daughter was missing for hours after leaving with her dog. Possible reasons were enumerated—a lover, a misunderstanding, school problems, peer pressure, and family fights—but none of them were affirmative. Alison was a good child...and very beautiful.
As days progress, the likelihood that Allison has been murdered increases when a gruesome discovery is made in a cave. Her undergarments where seen with blood and semen. Bullets were visible on the walls of the cave. The police had made a conclusion: Alison was raped and killed. But where is her body?
Scardale is a very secluded hamlet. The people are inbreeding—marrying and having kids with their own cousins. The people don’t have television or read newspaper. They were honest, kind, innocent, and genuine people.
There are only three surnames in Scardale—Carter, Lomas, and Crowther. Well, except for one who just arrived at Scardale after his uncle, the squire (leader) of Scardale, died—Philip Hawkin, the new squire, a photographer, the new husband of Ruth, after her husband and the father of Alison died.
George Bennett pledged to Ruth that he will solve the case, but it is not going to be easy. Aside from lack of clues due to the uncooperative nature of the people in Scardale (they do not trust outsiders), there is Smart, a news reporter, who is sensationalizing every bit and piece of the story. Other police officers would leak information just to be quoted in newspapers, policemen who are more concerned on publicity rather than solving the case.
When the investigation to indentify the killer was next to impossible, Derek, Alison’s cousin, had given George a ray of light. Derek, without knowing the significance of the information, told George that he saw the squire in the fields Wednesday afternoon, exactly the time when Alison disappeared.
Hawkin was invited in the police station for inquiries. George was in the hype of asking questions when Ruth called. Frantic of what she has discovered. George stopped the scrutiny and headed toward Scardale. He saw Ruth crying, there was a piece of clothe covered in blood, underneath it was a revolver. Ruth had seen it in her husband’s dark room—a place for developing photos.
George searched in the dark room, in every corner, to find more evidence that could prove Hawkin’s guilty. Then there was a safety box. The box contained envelops, the envelops contained pictures, and the pictures contained Alison, naked and being raped by Hawkin—the squire was abusing his step-daughter. He was taking pictures while thrusting his pen** onto the little girl’s vagi**, anu*, and mouth.
With all the evidence gathered, Hawkin was imprisoned and hanged to death. Alison has received the justice she deserves. But till the time of his death, despite the evidence, Hawkin did not admit he killed Alison. He even wrote a letter to Ruth that he was sorry for the bad things he has done but he never admitted killing Alison, and Ruth should pursue the real killer.
After thirty-five years, Catherine, a journalist, is making a book about the tragedy. The Alison Carter story was very influential. Parents, during that time, had almost kept leashes on their children, afraid that it might happen to their own what happened to Alison. Catherine had gone to Scardale to interview the locals. She, of course, talked with George, who gallantly shared the story to Catherine.
Paul, George Bennett’s beloved son, is about to marry Helen Wainwright. George went to Helen’s house, which is in Scardale, to meet Helen’s only family, her sister Janis. When George saw Janis, he was greatly shocked that caused him a heart attack.
Catherine, who was the journalist that she is, had known what happened to George and has happen to dug old files, files that prove that Janis is already dead due to tuberculosis. Then, who is the Janis that caused George’s heart attack. It was crystal clear that Janis was actually Alison Carter. She was alive all along. She then figured out that Helen was not Janis’ sister but her daughter with Hawkin. Alison was impregnated and was kept by distant relatives.
In order to clear things up, Catherine, together with Tommy, George’s partner during the Alison Carter case, went to Janis/Alison.
There, Alison had narrated how her mother discovered that she was being abused by Hawkin. But it does not end there, Alison showed Catherine and Tommy pictures, pictures of children in Scardale, 13 the oldest and 3 being the youngest, being abused by Hawkin. Hawkin was indeed a pedophile.
Alison continued that, after knowing what happened to her daughter, Ruth then gathered the adults and showed to them the lewd pictures. The adults were in raged but they could not kill Hawkin since it will certainly be investigated since he was a powerful man. Thus, they have devised the plot to frame Hawkin of the crime of murdering Alison.
Then, after hearing the entire story, Catherine and Tommy were left speechless. They could not condemn the villagers. They both know to themselves that they would do the same thing if they were in the villagers’ position.
Catherine decided not to pursue the book she wrote since it was all made up by lies. Consequently, if she will write what really happened thirty-five years ago, it would mean the destruction of George Bennett’s name, the integration of Paul and Helen’s marriage, the prosecution of the whole Scardale village, and the reopening of the wound of the children who were abused.
Tommy delivered to George the good news which has somehow contributed to his fast recovery. George Bennett then decided to talk to Alison to finally put an end to the story.
Sorry for not being a good narrator. There are certainly details in the novel that will keep your heartbeat faster than it should be.
|Thank you Ms Val McDermid for the great novel.|
One thing I like about this is that it mirrored two journalists, Smart and Catherine. Smart who has written stories about the Alison Carter case that have put him to the pedestal but did not care what his stories could have caused to the “grieving” family of Alison. And Catherine who held the opportunity of a lifetime because she knew that it was the right thing.
Now, I wonder, when I become a journalist someday, will I be Smart or Catherine? Smart was ferociously ambitious like me. Catherine had the conscience.
Val McDermid had portrayed the two journalists well since she was a journalist herself for 16 years. Again I wonder, was she like Smart or Catherine?
People say that “the means do not justify the end.” But I guess it’s not applicable always, isn’t it?