Sun 17 Feb 2013
VAL McDERMID – A Place of Execution. Collins, UK, hardcover, 1999; paperback, 2000. St. Martin’s, US, hardcover, 2000; paperback, 2001.
A PLACE OF EXECUTION. ITV, UK; 3 x 60m episodes: 22 Sept, 29 Sept, 6 Oct 2008. PBS, US, November 1 & 8, 2009. Lee Ingleby, Emma Cunniffe, Philip Jackson, Juliet Stevenson, Elizabeth Day, Tony Maudsley, Greg Wise, Poppy Goodburn, Mikey North, Danny Tennant. Based on the novel by Val McDermid. Director: Daniel Percival.
In 1963, when the Manchester police are investigating the first disappearances caused by the real-life Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, a 13-year-old girl goes missing from her small isolated Derbyshire village.
On hand when the call comes in is Detective Inspector George Martin, a man fast-tracked for promotion under the new graduate recruitment scheme. He becomes rather obsessed with the search for the missing girl, coordinating unsuccessful searches and then reacting with diligence when evidence starts to filter in slowly over the next few weeks.
When an arrest is made, we follow the accumulation of evidence and then the formality of the trial and verdict. This takes us through almost 400 of the 550 pages in the paperback that I read.
We then forward to the present day (or, at least, to 1998, when the book was written) and the story of Catherine Heathcote, a journalist who has taken time off to write a book about the about the case, co-operating with the now retired George Martin. With the book nearly finished, she receives a letter from him saying that he was withdrawing from the project ad insisting that she abandon it.
Catherine now has to investigate the reasons why and this takes up the final part of the book.
This is a very slow paced but enjoyable and rewarding book (after 200 pages very little has happened but I was enthralled and still reading enthusiastically).
However I have to say that it was very well written and I thoroughly enjoyed the reading of it. (It was short-listed for the Gold Dagger in 1999 and the Edgar in 2001, and won the Anthony and Macavity Awards for that year.)
I delayed watching the television adaptation of the novel (three one-hour parts, less adverts) because I wanted to read the book first. (It’s an awful dilemma because, as you all know, you gain the knowledge from one which can dilute the pleasure of the other, no matter which you experience – unless of course you leave a small gap, a few weeks seems to sufficient nowadays for me, in which case all knowledge of the original will be forgotten.)
This is a superior production and one I would recommend. Some changes are made to the original. The journalist is now preparing a television piece (which gives her people to speak to: a televisual necessity since thoughts are difficult to get across) and is given a difficult teenage daughter with which to contend. Also many of the characters of the book are jettisoned and the action is streamlined (again necessary or the production would last much longer than the allotted 2½ hours or so).
The switch between the 1963 scenes and the present day is well handled and well cast with corresponding actors chosen to portray the same actors in the differing eras.
The coincidence I complained of in the book is eliminated but, unfortunately, another much more unacceptable coincidence is added to close the production. This is not enough to ruin what is an enjoyable adaptation, but it would have been better if it not been added.