Book review: 1989


Val McDermid

Jonathan Ball

Review: Karen Watkins

This is the second in the Allie Burns series but because of the 10-year gap it can easily be read as a stand-alone novel.

It’s a time of the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing, the Berlin wall has come down, the first mobile phones and dial-up internet. HIV/Aids is a real issue with no treatment or cures.

The newspaper library is still all paper and journalists have to go out in the field to do their research.

Allie is the northern editor of the decimated news operation at the Sunday Globe. This newspaper is owned by a Murdoch rival as part of his huge media conglomerate.

Most of Allie’s work involves puff pieces rather than the hard-hitting investigative journalism she enjoys and is good at.

The dual story is set in Scotland, Manchester and East Germany.

Allie takes on doing research for a story about the treatment of Scottish Aids patients. This leads to a pharmaceutical company working on a study on an antiretroviral drug and its harmful side effects.

Meanwhile, there’s a separate storyline about Genevieve Lockhart, daughter of Allie’s new boss, media mogul Wallace ‘Ace’ Lockhart. He is a bully with a huge ego and few scruples. He is involved with the radicals that may be on the verge of wresting freedom for the Soviet satellite countries.

The stories merge and that’s where the tale takes off.

McDermid does a great job of weaving real events into Allie’s investigation. I only found the playlist at the end which is a superb way to get the reader into the mood of the times. With all this, the story plot is loose and feels disjointed and doesn’t work. The pace is slow but mostly believable.

Allie is an interesting character, living an interesting life in a comfortable relationship with Rona. But she is not entirely happy in her job. It’s a good read but not fantastic.