The Mermaids Singing – Val McDermid

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?


Filed under Books of 2011, Harper Collins, Review, Val McDermid

19 responses to “The Mermaids Singing – Val McDermid

  1. Jen

    Simon, I just LOVE your blog! I look forward to reading it every day! Thank you for all your hard work. I’ve read many, many books because of your thoughtful and detailed reviews.
    I hope you are doing well and am keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. novelinsights

    Oh this sound brilliant and also original!! I might have to keep my eyes peeled for this in the library next time I go. I haven’t seen any of the Wire in the Blood TV series.

    BTW have you seen that The Crimson Petal and the Rose is going to be made into a film or maybe a series (can’t remember I read it in Vogue). Going to have to bump it up the list!

    • It is absolutely ace, in fact if I had signal I would have text you as soon as I finished it and said ‘Polly, you need this book now!’

      I loved The Crimson Petal… I am very excited about it especially as Gillian Anderson is going to be in it as a right evil madame… literally.

  3. I’ve seen all the Wire in the Blood series and had no idea they were based on books. Okay, I may have been done-in by my crush for Robson Green. Once the TBR Dare is done, I may look for this one. If it’s as good as the first series was….

    • They are indeed based on the books, there is a big set of repeats going on so I think I will have to play catch up on the series version too. If you like Mr Green you need to see the new series of Being Human, thats all I will say.

  4. In answer to your question, Simon, YES all her books are this good! Val McDermid is one of my favourite authors (crime or otherwise). I have read all the books in this series (with Tony Hill and Carol Jordan) and have loved them all! I have also read most of her standalones and they are just as brilliant! So glad you enjoyed 🙂

  5. I love “Wire in the Blood” but have never read any of the Hill/Jordan books. Thanks for this review, Simon. It is a great reminder of what wonderful author Val McDermid is.

    • I hope you turn to one of the books. The only thing I did have a mini issue with was Robson Green being in my head reading Tony Hill as he plays him. That said I think he is a great choice.

  6. Pingback: Guessing The Orange Prize Longlist 2011… « Savidge Reads

  7. Val McDermid

    Thank you!

    • I have been informed by the lovely Stella Duffy that this is the real Val McDermid, I thought someone was pulling my leg or playing a joke. Thank you so much for commenting back, I was very chuffed – as I am sure Stella will tell you.

  8. I’ve read ‘The Grave Tattoo’ which I really enjoyed. It’s about the survivors of the mutiny on the Bounty and Captain Bligh’s possible escape. Very interesting historically but with a modern protagonist searching for clues. And of course murder. She’s also an amazing speaker and I’ve attended several enjoyable talks.

    • You see that one wouldnt normally appeal as it sounds like it has a lot of boats in it and I dont like books with boats as a rule but I would be willing to try if its as page turning as this.

  9. Pingback: Recommended Reading, My Books of 2011 So Far… | Savidge Reads

  10. Pingback: Trick of the Dark – Val McDermid |

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  12. robert charriere

    Dear Mr. Savidge, What a wonderful dicovery to find your reviews! You have opened a completely new world to me regarding interesting books to read! It is rather late in life for me, so I look forward to spending many hours reading your recommendations! You see, I trust your judgement! Once again, thank you! Kindest regards, r

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