I know that to describe a book as ‘a page-turner’ is an over used cliché in a lot of reviews, including my own, but sometimes no other short expression will suffice. Val McDermid has been an author that I have wanted to try for a while and so when, a while back, I was in the mood for crime and lashings of it McDermid’s first Tony Hill novel ‘The Mermaids Singing’ seemed like it could be the ideal choice. The only slight hesitation that I had with reading her work was that I heard it was an utter gore fest, however as I have been watching all the Saw films on and off whilst recovering from various procedures I was fairly sure I could face any written gore fest after such visual ones.
Men are being tortured and killed before being dumped in Bradfield. Tony Hill, a clinical psychologist and criminal profiler, has had an inkling that this has been the work of one serial killer ever since the first murder several months ago. The police, except for Inspector Carol Jordan, disagree until the fourth murder victim is found and what the police and papers call ‘The Queer Killer’ is given the focus and attention that they crave. (This is where we join the story really so I haven’t given anything away.) Only is everything as simple as is first made out? Might the killer not be a homosexual themselves and using the local gay hot spots to leave victims in as a clever cover? Might it be on of the police dealing with their own sexuality? As you start to read McDermid, just as her character Tony Hill does, gives you so many hypothesis that anything could be possible.
The novel is written in an interesting way as you jump in every chapter between several of the characters, namely Hill and Jordan, as they see things from the latest discoveries. At the end of every chapter we also get into the mindset of the killer, all in italics which slightly annoyed my eyes, as they start preparing to kill and the research and planning that they do. I found this double angle on the whole thing rather fascinating and was also impressed how McDermid set both of the stories up from opposite ends and never gave a hint of anything away. Yes, that’s right; I had no idea who the killer was until the very end though I did kick myself at the end – I will say no more.
If that wasn’t enough there is also the back story of Tony Hill and the strange late night ‘booty calls’ he receives from a mysterious stranger he only knows as Angelica which both fascinate, arouse and disturb him and give us a glimmer that not all of Tony Hill is quite as clear cut or baggage free as we might think. In fact, bar a some of the crime clichés that we all love so much – sexism in the police, Detectives thinking anyone outside the police is an imbecile, the homophobia (which is addressed well and occasionally poignantly), neither lead character being successful at relationships and yet fancying the other – the characters are well rounded and interesting, no loner alcoholic protagonist Detective to be found in this series so far, you find yourself routing for them.
‘The Mermaid’s Singing’ should really come with a warning or two. The first should be that it is quite a graphic book, not just in terms of the murders that take place through it and the remains of their victims but it’s also quite graphic on the sex front too. In neither case did I feel that this was ever done simply for thrills, maybe occasionally to shock but not in a calculated way. However if you aren’t faint hearted or easily shocked then the second warning would be that if you pick up this book, and possibly McDermid’s other novels (though I haven’t read them yet), then you might want to cancel any engagements as they are incredibly addictive. I read all 443 pages in a horrified, tense, thrilled sitting. 9.5/10
I treated myself to this at the local charity shop as I had the latest ‘Trick of The Dark’ from her publishers and a seperate standalone one but wanted to start the Tony Hill series after seeing Hermione Norris was in the TV series and wanted to catch up with that too – is that a bit strange? Have you seen the TV series?
If you are a lover of crime, or books that draw you in and simply will not let you rest until the final page is turned (when you realise you used so much energy reading it you need to sleep a good day or two to catch up) then this is seriously a book for you. It did ponder in their might be a slim chance McDermid’s latest novel ‘Trick of the Dark’ will make it on to the Orange Longlist tomorrow, but its crime so I guess its unlikely which is a shame as she writes incredibly, taught and real, and is immensely readable. I am wondering if all of her novels are this good, have any of you read some of her others?