Mini Book Review: ‘1989’ by Val McDermid

1989 was once thought to be the end of history.  That year, the Berlin Wall fell, seemingly heralding the final triumph of Western liberalism.  We know now that the future was to prove rather different.  In an ambitious novel which uses 1989 as its title, Val McDermid revisits the period.  And it seems that the past, with all its echoes, may not be such a different country after all.

The protagonist Allie Burns is a tabloid journalist whose cynicism is equal to her principled idealism.  Determined to expose a scandal involving AIDS patients, she starts on a journey that takes her across the Iron Curtain.  Along the way, she covers real-life events such as the Lockerbie Bombing and the Hillsborough Disaster.  Ultimately, all roads lead back to her monstrous boss, the Robert Maxwellesque newspaper proprietor, Ace Lockhart.

There is just a tiny hint of nostalgia in McDermid’s recreation of the 1980s.  Still, she is unflinching in reminding of us of the attitudes to women and minorities that were commonplace at the time, particularly on Fleet Street. 

McDermid is not the first author to offer political commentary as crime fiction, and she certainly knows her history.  However, she has the deftness of touch to integrate this seamlessly into the jaunty pace of the story.