Book Review: The Skeleton Road

Skeleton Road: Courtesy of Amazon

Skeleton Road: Courtesy of Amazon

I picked this book up at the library on a whim. It was a murder mystery and I tend to like a good mystery story, in general. As well, based on the jacket blurb, part of the story was set in present-day Oxford- a place I had some great memories from myself- and also during the Balkan war of the 1990s. During that time period, I was aware there was a serious war being waged in that area, but was still young enough not to understand the nuances. So I thought I might gain some insight into this portion of world history as well.

The Skeleton Road was written by Scottish author Val McDermid. McDermid has been very prolific, churning out more than 30 books over the course of her career. This one was her most recent. In this story, McDermid’s main characters are all women. There are definitely men who have key parts to play in the book. But the story is built around an accomplished Oxford professor who has made her bread and butter on speaking to the conflict she witnessed firsthand in the Balkans. The other is a detective (in American-speak) who is investigating the discovery of a set of bones found on the top of an abandoned building. This is a cold case that will take them both down very unexpected paths, both past and present.

Some of the comments online cast aspersions on McDermid’s characters and plot. Some found it too unwieldy, trying to do too much with too many threads. Some found particularly her detective character to be too gruff and disparaging of her male counterparts. Having known quite a few women in law enforcement, I actually think McDermid got it right. True, some of these women do seem to lose their “femininity”- if they ever possessed such a subjectively-defined quality to begin with. But I find that many law officers and military personnel of both genders tend to develop a very tough, clinical skin in the course of their work. I imagine it’s the only way they sometimes manage to navigate the horrors that they are exposed to. I actually found the insights into the detective’s home life to be quite refreshing. You saw her human side through those interactions and that to me, strikes me as true to life.

I found this to be a good read. I believe all the loose ends were tied up and that there weren’t huge leaps from one deduction to the next that seemed implausible. (One of my pet peeves.)  The one element of disquiet that I was left with was the knowledge that I clearly know so little about what happened in the Balkans. The atrocities that people endured, the history behind it, and the scars I’m sure that are left on the people and community that live there today. It’s shameful, this not knowing. And of course history will repeat itself if it is not remembered and learned from.

I’m not quite sure how one proceeds from there. But it did inspire in me a desire to do a bit more reading and research into this era. At the very least, I can try to be a part of those who know.

For those who would also like to learn more about this era, here is a resource from the International Committee of the Red Cross and here is a brief synopsis of the events, courtesy of CNN.

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