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1979 by Val McDermid - Review

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

You may remember that last year I read 1989 by Val McDermid, not realising that it was the second in a series about journalist Allie Burns. I really enjoyed it so I wanted to read the first one. I bought it on Kindle a while ago but had forgotten about it. But then I was on holiday in Edinbugh last week, tabling at the Zine Fest and then staying with a friend for a few days, so I decided to read something set in Scotland and this fit the bill perfectly. I really enjoyed this book but I think I liked the second one more. Like the second book, it really has a lot going on, with many plot lines. I don't think it's detrimental to the book overall, but I do wonder if it would be better to split the lines into separate novels? 

So, in 1979 Allie is working for the Daily Clarion in Glasgow. She hasn't been there very long; newly returned to Scotland from university in England and is pretty new to journalism. She is always just given the 'miracle baby' stories and isn't taken seriously by her bosses or colleagues. The miracle baby is genuinely one given to her after she and her colleague Danny witness a baby being born on a stopped train on New Year's Day on the way back to Glasgow. Allie is fed up, so when Danny suggests a story he might have she's willing go in on the investigating with him.

Danny's older brother Joseph has always been the golden boy in the family. He drives a flashy car and boasts about his high flying job with an investment company. Over Christmas he mentions something which means that the way the company works may be laundering money for rich clients. Danny starts looking into his brother's actions and asks some questions, and realises that money laundering is exactly what is happening. He and Allie start investigating, and take the story to their boss, but Danny realises he can't keep his brother's name out of it. He knows this is going to have a terrible effect on his family. 

They get the story and the credit, but at what cost? Allie starts hanging out with Rona (who I remembered as her girlfriend from the second book, so I knew where the relationship was headed) who works on the 'women's pages'. She tells Allie to keep an eye on some SNP meetings and the women involved. There is about to be a vote on Scottish devolution, and the SNP are getting antsy. While there, Allie meets three men who talk about forming a Scottish Republican Army, like the IRA, to force complete independence from England. Allie persuades Danny to infiltrate this group, and again she and Danny face danger in the pursuit of their story.

I did think the very ending of the book was a little bit anticlimatic. But maybe it is quite real in that way. The book has a lot of heart and emotion, and it's hard to not feel for both Allie and Danny in their ways. I loved the 1979 setting and all the sexism that Allie faced in her job and the way she was just fobbed off despite being a good writer and having excellent instincts. I also really liked the look at journalism at the time with all the copies of stories, the copy boys, the hierarchy of the newsroom, and all of that. There's less of this in the second one so I appreciated this look. Plus some of the stuff they had to do because there just weren't phones and computers around was totally wild. A totally different world and yet it really isn't that long ago. 

I'm giving this five out of five. Despite a couple of misgivings I did really like it. I have just learnt that 1999 is coming out later this year, so I will look forward to that! 

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