Book review: Still Life by Val McDermid (Karen Pirie #6)

still life val mcdermid

Still Life has an intriguing plot, a twisty and convoluted tale of a body found off the Fife coast. The murder appears to be connected to the unsolved disappearance of a prominent civil servant a decade earlier, so Karen Pirie’s cold case team is brought in. There’s also a (less satisfying) sub-plot involving the discovery of a skeleton in the home of a dead woman which has some thematic links to the main story.

This series is more aspirational than realistic. DCI Karen Pirie and her team appear to have a bottomless expense account. They get to hare around attractive locations across Europe, quizzing witnesses (often classic ‘meeting that should have been an email’ situations, but face-to-face does make for more drama).

Karen spends a lot of time eating elaborate meals or drinking artisan gin (both described at excessive length) yet is capable of displays of great athleticism when the moment demands it. 

So what did I enjoy about Still Life? Part of it, I think, is habit. I’ve been a fan of Val McDermid for so long, that just reading her prose generates an endorphin response. She’s so page-turny and comforting. I was drawn in by the story and the characters are interesting and distinctly drawn. The travelogue element to this series can be distracting but this year, more than ever, it’s fun to vicariously visit all these different locations. Conversely, I like that the Karen Pirie books are strongly rooted in Scottish law and culture.

In McDermid’s world, there is always a strong sense of camaraderie. Karen invariably knows a woman (or occasionally a man) who can help, whether it’s a question of forensics, technology or where to get a great cup of coffee. In reading the books, you temporarily get to imagine yourself part of the gang. It would be nice to be part of a network of determined, sparky and knowledgeable friends who can get you out of any scrape.

Still Life isn’t a classic but I was absorbed and engaged. McDermid has also set up a number of fascinating strands for the next book. So I’m sure I’ll be back.

I received a copy of Still Life from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Still Life on Goodreads

Do you like crime fiction series?

Take a look at Still You Sleep, the first in my series featuring journalists Tilda Green and Freddie Stone.


  1. It’s been ages since I’ve read a Val McDermid, but I’ve consistently enjoyed them. Although, as you say, some of the appeal of long-standing series, is the comfort of the habit of reencountering their characters and atmosphere (and I suppose artisanal gin lovers would enjoy that habit here too!).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think habit plays such a role! I know I’ve got used listening to certain podcasts on particular days while doing particular chores and if they don’t drop for some reason it bugs me. That’s why I did get into the habit of regular posting here – although the last few months I’ve got out of it again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have mixed feelings. I loved the early Jordan/Hill books, and some of the standalones from that period, but haven’t had such an intense reaction to her work since. I don’t know if she’s changed or I have. I still keep going back though!


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