In December 1963 thirteen-year-old Alison Carter fails to return to her home in the hamlet of Scardale after she goes out with her dog after school. Detective Inspector George Bennett of Buxton takes the call and drives to Scardale to interview her parents. Bennett is under thirty but already a DI as the result of earning a law degree that put him on a fast track for promotion. When Bennett reaches Scardale, he encounters a feudal village owned by Phillip Harkin, the current squire. The eight families who live in Hawkin's cottages and work for him are all related and named Carter, Crowther or Lomas. Alison is the daughter of Hawkin's wife Ruth, who had been a widow. Because physical geography isolates Scardale from the outside world and the inhabitants distrust outsiders, Bennett finds it difficult to get information to aid in his investigation. Thirty-five years later journalist Catherine Heathcoate prepares to write a book about the case of Alison Carter after Bennett, now retired, agrees to talk with her. Bennett is ready to come to terms with the case that had been his obsession.
Val McDermid succeeds in writing an excellent police procedural that explores the impact of criminal investigation on the lives of the investigators. A Place of Execution is also a riveting psychological suspense novel steeped in the mores and secrets of a closed community during the early 1960s. This book is not recommended for readers uncomfortable with stories of victimized children.
Reviewed by ds, 3/01. Other reviews by ds.