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Val McDermid — The Wire in the Blood

There were numerous departures in this book from the episode of Wire in the Blood that was based upon it, so I was able to read it and have no idea what was going to happen, which is always a good thing with a mystery novel. Whether or not I liked it more or less than the television show, I’m not quite sure… and it will be hard to explain without spoiling either one.

The Wire in the Blood reunites DCI Carol Jordan and Dr. Tony Hill, outside of Bradfield. Hill is heading a unit of police detectives being trained as profilers in order to better pursue serial offenders. Jordan has been promoted, and is heading her own new squad. In the background is Jacko Vance, a golden boy and serial killer of young girls. Hill’s students, in the course of their research, stumble upon a “cluster” of similar missing girls that will end up leading them on the right track, but with tragic consequences…

What I like about these books is that while we know who the killer is, whether he will be caught, and how, is what drives the plot. It’s not someone out of left field, but he’s a tricky character, and we can follow along with the police as they desperately try and apprehend a monster. McDermid’s writing is taut with suspense, though again a little dated, definitely a product of the ’90s. The violence is sickening, which is a little hard to read, but again it’s a balance of attempting to make sure the reader is invested in the outcome vs. making it unpalatable to read.

It’s Hill and Jordan that take the center stage, however, their intuitive and analytical take on the murders, as well as their interesting personalities. There are hints of Hill’s past tangled tantalizingly in front of the reader. The ending, I think, I liked better in the television show (and it’s frustrating because I don’t want to say exactly WHY), but the book might be truer to life, and as sad as that is, it definitely made for suspenseful reading, where everything still remains at stake…

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Val McDermid — The Mermaids Singing

One of my (many) obsessions are detective novels. Although there’s a certain morbidity about it I also tend to enjoy books about profilers and serial killers as well (stemming from a fascination with abnormal psychology in college). I came to McDermid’s books in a roundabout way, having first seen the ITV show Wire in the Blood, unusual because generally I’ll try and read books before watching a TV show or movie. I really enjoyed the show, so I was curious to check out the book series.

The Mermaids Singing introduces Dr. Anthony Hill, a criminal psychologist and profiler who deals with Britain’s most notorious murderers, and DI Carol Jordan, a tough, whip-smart, but caring policewoman who’s had to make her way in a man’s world and has done a fantastic job of it. They are located in the distinctively northern town of Bradfield, where a serial killer (though the police are at first reluctant to term him as such) is picking off men and leaving their tortured bodies in extremely public areas. As the crimes grow more serious, Carol Jordan calls upon Tony Hill’s psychiatric expertise to try and catch the killer before he strikes again.

I kind of wish I had read the book before seeing the show, because I knew what was going to happen. The book was still good, and had a disturbing quality that the show didn’t have, delving into the killer’s mind (and Hill’s mind) in a way that the television medium didn’t allow. The tension crackles throughout, but it is really the characters that make this one shine. The conflicted, complex Tony Hill, tortured by as yet-unnamed past trauma, is a messed up, sexually conflicted doctor who should really be healing himself. As with the best profilers, the line that separates him from his subjects is a thin one. And Carol Jordan is an awesome female lead: ambitious, ruthless, and smart, but still with a deeply felt idealism, she takes Hill’s experience and runs with it, adding her own experience and intuition to the analysis, but neither one nor the other are solely responsible for collaring the killer.

My one complaint is that although it was fun reading, it was a little dated, definitely seeming like it was written in the mid 90s. It wasn’t just the tone but the references scattered throughout (for example the killer singing a Wet, Wet, Wet song and a few other things, like computer software that played a big part in the story seeming laughingly anachronistic now).

Still an enjoyable mystery that doesn’t play dumb with you. I’m looking forward to reading more about Jordan and Hill, especially since the show diverges from the novels in its fourth season, so I’m looking forward to some surprises.

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