After reading my first ever Val McDermid and reviewing it back in March I knew that I wanted to read a lot more and so rather than follow the first Tony Hill, ‘The Mermaid’s Singing’, with the next I thought I would go for the latest standalone novel ‘Trick of the Dark’. Isn’t it funny what you expect with a novel, I thought this was going to be another disturbing dark whodunit, and yet instead I was greeted by more of a ‘howdunit’ (yes, that’s a new term thank you) which I wasn’t expecting at all…
The premise of ‘Trick of the Dark’ is a hard one to summarise, especially without giving the plot away so I shall try my best without any spoilers. As the novel opens we meet ‘disgraced’ psychiatrist Dr Charlie Flint who has been suspended from her job and is considering on leaving her wife Maria, a dentist, for another woman – one she barely knows but the chemistry is too strong. Over breakfast she receives a mysterious parcel filled with press cuttings of a recent murder of a groom at his wedding. Initially Charlie things this is nothing to do with her, until she recognises the dead mans wife, Magda, who was the daughter of Charlie’s old tutor Corinna when she studied in Oxford. Are you still with me? Good.
Charlie decides to investigate, she has the time and she wants to redeem herself for something we slowly learn about so I won’t spoil it, in doing so she goes back to her old life in Oxford to meet Corinna who believes her daughter is now having a lesbian affair with a murderer, Jay Macallan Stewart. Jay is now a multi-millionaire of the dot.com era, she is also the best seller of misery memoirs and, if Corinna is to be believed, she is also a serial killer from murdering a fellow student that got in her way back at school to Magda’s husband Philip and countless in-between. Sounds far fetched doesn’t it, Charlie certainly thinks so and yet she decides to investigate anyway opening secrets from the past that might be best left alone.
I admit, though it might be a poor explanation from me above, that the story does sound rather complicated and far fetched. Val McDermid makes this all sound highly believable, gripping and yet doesn’t loose the reader in the twists, turns and possible red herrings she plants along the way. I was worried I wouldn’t get far enough in to find out though and was actually feeling most despondent when it started. I thought I had found a new favourite author but I didn’t think this book would grab me. I didn’t instantly warm to Charlie, the fact she wanted to have an affair made me cross (oh the moral high ground) and I couldn’t like her or feel for her. Slowly she was someone I warmed to, I don’t think I ever really liked her, but I liked what Charlie was trying to do.
I also didn’t think I would gel very well with a ‘howdunit’. I mean if you think you know who killed the people from pretty much the start of the book where is the fun for the reader if you can’t guess who the culprit is? Well I was proved wrong here too, as rather weirdly I was hooked going into the mind of a possible psychopath and Jay Macallan Stewart is a fascinating character (in fact out of the whole book she is the one you want to read the most). But did she do it… you would have to read the book to find out.
Where ‘Trick of the Dark’ also excels is in the fact that this is a crime novel dealing with a lot more than some cold case deaths and a possible psychopath. It’s very much a book that looks at how someone’s background can make them who they are, it also looks at the ‘misery memoir’ and how true or not they might be. It also deals with sexuality as most of the characters are lesbians, not in a racy way (though there is some of that shenanigans) to entice readers with something salacious, but looking at the serious themes of people who in recent decades, and even now, are scared to ‘come out’ and are even faced with homophobia in their own households. This added a further dimension to the book.
‘Trick of the Dark’ is one of those crime novels that treads both the path of the thriller and that of the social commentary of people today and merges the two together. It is a bit far fetched (I am thinking of the rock climbing scenario for those who have read it), but then what’s wrong with some escapism? It had me gripped for the first three-hundred pages, a little unsure for the next hundred, and then up late for the next hundred before surprising me greatly in the last twenty. It wasn’t what I was expecting and proved to be a pleasantly gripping surprise.
I am now going to have to buck my trend completely and go from having read the first in Val’s Tony Hill series ‘The Mermaid’s Singing’ to the latest, and seventh, ‘The Retribution’ as we are very lucky to have her at September’s ‘Bookmarked’, it will be an interesting reading test for me to see if it stands alone or if I feel I have missed anything. I am also very, very excited about meeting Val. Are there any more of her standalone books I should read beforehand if I can?