Category Archives: Val McDermid

Savidge Reads Grills… Val McDermid

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting up with the lovely Val McDermid for a good long coffee and catch up thanks to the joys of twitter and knowing she was in the vicinity. I hadn’t seen her since she came and talked at Bookmarked Literary Salon last year, so we had much to discuss. When I got back I suddenly thought ‘hang on, didn’t I do a Savidge Reads Grills… with Val?’ It turned out I had last year when her latest novel ‘The Retribution’ came out and then very naughtily hadn’t used it, probably because I had done an interview with her for We Love This Book. Well ‘The Retribution’ is out in paperback now, you can see my review here, and so I thought that I would post it today as it seemed timely.

For those crazy people who haven’t read a Tony Hill novel yet, how would you describe the series of books he features in?

The Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novels are dark psychological thrillers that explore the extremes of what human beings are capable of doing to each other.  Tony is a psychologist who profiles for the police, Carol is a senior detective. Tony explores crimes by worming his way into the head of the killer; Carol uses more traditional detective techniques. He is motivated by compassion and empathy, she is motivated by justice. And at the heart of the books is the relationship between them, a relationship that is complicated by the damage they have both sustained in the cases they have worked.

Do you think people can come into the series at any point, especially with ‘The Retribution’ which sees one of Tony Hill’s old adversaries’s returning to the scene?

Each book in the series can stand alone but if you start at the beginning and read them in order, it will be a richer and more complete experience.

Have you ever liked one of you criminal characters, you see I think Jacko Vance is a brilliant psychopath… though that might say more about me as a reader maybe?

I don’t like them in the sense of wanting to go out for a beer with any of them. But I feel a sense of satisfaction when I think I’ve achieved a villain that feels like a three-dimensional character. Even if all three of those dimensions are pretty dark!

Each of your books is very different, be they in a series or a standalone, where do the ideas generate from? Does the murder come first or the story itself?

Occasionally it will be the murder, in the sense of a scenario for the crime or even an unusual method (such as the murder of the footballer in Beneath The Bleeding). But mostly it’s a situation or an interesting piece of information that sets me off on the ‘what if?’ game.  Sometimes it’s an anecdote told by a friend, or a throwaway line in a radio programme or a magazine article. It could be anything, as long as it piques my interest.

And how do you know if the story is one for a series or one that needs to simply standalone?

I can tell from the shape of the story, pretty early on. Rule of thumb – if it’s a serial killer, it’s probably Tony & Carol. If not, it’s going to need a whole new cast of characters.

Do you think Lindsey Gordon or Kate Brannigan will be coming back soon? Is there another series waiting in the wings?

I don’t know. And I don’t know. It depends what shouts loudest inside my head. I know the next two books will be a standalone followed by another Tony & Carol, and that’s all I can say right now.

How did it feel when Wire in the Blood the series was made, is it hard to see your work adapted?

I was very well served by the adaptation. I thought we ended up with excellent TV that felt like it occupied the same fictional landscape as the books. Coastal Productions took an unusually collaborative approach in the development and making of the show, and that is a large part of the reason it ended up being something I was very comfortable with.

How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your books or is it something you avoid at all costs?

It’s a great way of getting the word out about books that excite and fulfill readers. There are so many books out there and relatively few are reviewed in the traditional media. There’ s a huge range of bloggers but once you find a few who are in tune with your own tastes, it can be a fast track to finding new writers to enjoy. I have my own personal preferences, and yes, it’s gratifying to read good things about my work.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do?

I first knew I wanted to be a writer when reading the Chalet School books revealed that being a writer was a proper, paid job, not just something people did out of the goodness of their hearts! I came from a very non-traditional background for a writer – I grew up in a working class family in a mining community. But I was always encouraged to read, to educate myself and to work hard. All of which came in very handy. I had a couple of false starts in my creative writing career – including enough rejection letters to paper the bathroom — but once I began to write crime fiction, it all came together.

Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written in a book?

Nothing I can think of except maybe one dedication! And no, I’m not going to tell you which one.

You have always loved crime fiction, what is it that you love so much about the genre?

I love that it gives me the opportunity to put characters under pressure and see what that makes them do. I love that moment of delight when I finally get the plot to make sense so that all the other elements of the book can fall into place. I love that there’s room to write decent prose while still moving the story along. And I love that crime writers take their work but not themselves seriously.

Do you ever think a crime book will win the Booker Prize?

Why does it matter? Really, crime writers and readers need to stop being so chippy about this. We know the quality of the best of our genre. We don’t need the imprimatur of the Booker or any other prize to justify ourselves.

Which books and authors inspired you to write?

Elinor M Brent Dyer, Robert Louis Stevenson, Norman MacCaig, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Sarah Paretsky. And many, many others.

Are there any books you wish you had written yourself?

Treasure Island.

Which contemporary authors do you turn to?

Margaret Atwood. Ali Smith. Reginald Hill. James Sallis. James Lee Burke. Kate Atkinson. Michael Robotham.  Andrea Camilleri. And many, many others.

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?

I get out of bed, I shower, and I drink two cups of coffee. I eat bacon and beans and a portion of fruit. I go out to the office, turn on the music and start the writing day revising what I wrote the day before.  That’s pretty much it.

Which one book must all Savidge Readers run out and buy right now, which is your very favourite?

I don’t have a favourite. I really don’t.

What is next for Val McDermid?

A standalone called The Vanishing Point. Then another Tony & Carol. And maybe another radio drama serial, because I really enjoyed the one I did this spring.

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A big thanks to Val for doing this. If you want to see any of the other previous Savidge Reads Grills then do pop and have a look. Reading this interview back and seeing Val last week has reminded me I must read ‘Wire in the Blood’ very soon. Which of Val’s books have you read? Have you stuck with the series, the standalones or both?

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Filed under Savidge Reads Grills..., Val McDermid

Bookmarked Crime Night… The Report

Last week was the second Bookmarked Literary Salon and what a criminally good night it was. You all know how much I love a good crime novel so to have the legendary Val McDermid and wonderful debut novelist M.J. McGrath (or Melanie as I’m now allowed to call her) was bliss for me. I went and did that silly getting nervous thing again, fortunately it didn’t last long and we were soon chatting away between having our photos taken together before it all started off.

After each author had done a reading it was time for a good old natter, you may notice we changed the seating from last time so it’s less authors vs. hosts. The conversation flowed and it all went far too quickly.

Val had some really interesting insights into how crime is changing through technological advances and not just in the case of solving crimes but in what you write. Her son has been reading some of her earlier novels and after reading about Kate Brannigan hunting down a phone box for a few pages asked why she didn’t just use her mobile phone? We also discussed social media, how psychopaths are using it to their advantage. Apparently there is now a twitter account called Vance On The Run which is apparently Jacko Vance, Val’s own creation, who is trying to follow her! How mad is that? Mind you I follow Jackson Brodie on twitter, erm let’s move on…

Melanie had tales to tell from quite another world, the arctic, and how her friends can Facebook her and tell her they have a dislocated shoulder but can’t get to a hospital or drugs delivered because they are so remote. As she spent lots of time in the arctic as a journalist (and wrote ‘The Long Exhile’ which I am now desperate to read) she also had wonderful tales to tell of the Inuit life and how she became a figure of fun after locking herself out her house, with only ten minutes till she would freeze to death, and getting to grips with peeing when it becomes an icicle mid-flow. Oh and a brilliant semi-tragic tale about a hunter who met his match with a polar bear he was after. It was utterly fascinating.

Too soon and it was all over. Time to sign books for the wonderful audience who came along, including Polly of Novel Insights, and made it such a wonderful event we didn’t want to end.

In fact we loved it so much we might just be having another meeting of the same minds next year, we shall see. Val and Melanie have said they will and Melanie even wrote a contractually binding comment in my copy of her book, so I’ll be holding them to that!

Thanks again if you were in the audience, I did speak to some of you but not all. It was a wonderful evening and if you couldn’t make it I hope this post gives you a feel for the night. I’m loving this salon malarky, can you tell?

Bookmarked will be back in just under two weeks, time really flies, on Monday the 3rd of October for a Victorian themed evening (with two of my favourite books of 2011 and their authors) of ‘Sensational Stories’ as Jane Harris will be discussing ‘Gillespie and I’ and Carol Birch will be talking about ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, as well as all things Victoriana based, to say I am excited would be an understatement. I hope to see you there (if not I will report back again)!

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Filed under Bookmarked Literary Salon, M.J. McGrath, Val McDermid

The Retribution – Val McDermid

The more crime fiction I read the more I find I love the genre. It’s not because I have some secret desire to become a serial killer but probably because on of the jobs I thought I might end up doing was to become a criminal profiler. It didn’t happen, but since I have read more and more crime novels I think I have found a way of living the dream vicariously through fiction. In Val McDermid’s series featuring psychologist Tony Hill, I think I have found the perfect outlet and so I was really looking forward to reading ‘The Retribution’ even if it meant jumping from his first case to his latest, and therefore breaking my rule of reading every series in order.

Little Brown, hardback, 2011, fiction, 402 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

‘The Retribution’ is the seventh novel in what is becoming one of Val McDermid’s most popular series featuring psychologist Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan. Here the past comes back to haunt our two protagonists as Jacko Vance, a psychopath that Tony and Carol have dealt with before, escapes from prison with nothing but revenge on his mind.

That really is about as much of the plot as you can give away with this novel. It is fair to say that both Tony and Carol, along with his ex-wife Mickey, are high on the list of people who he wishes to seek vengeance. How he goes about his revenge isn’t the way you would think, he doesn’t want to kill his former foes, he wants to inflict as much hurt and devastation as he can on them. No one is safe and for once Tony Hill finds he can’t quite second guess this killer. If that wasn’t enough, there seems to be second serial killer on the loose too.

Is it wrong to say that I quite liked Jacko Vance as a psychopathic serial killer? I have a feeling it might be, and yet that is how I felt. I wouldn’t want to be his friend or anything, but I really liked reading him even when he was utterly evil. He really does the most awful things and yet I couldn’t help but admire his plotting and planning, which has been going on for years, and the way he utterly disregards emotion. He doesn’t really want to kill, yet he has to in order to inflict pain not on his victims but on those around them. It’s a very clever psychological twist and one that I found somewhat weirdly fascinating. Oh come on, don’t be shocked, people who read a lot of crime all think like that even if they don’t admit it.

I can’t really tell you how Tony and Carol’s relationship has changed in the series so far because I have to admit I have gone from the very first on, ‘The Mermaids Singing’, to this one, with a quick pit stop at a McDermid standalone in the form of ‘Trick of the Dark’, because I am interviewing Val in just over a week. I can say that should you have missed any of the other series, including Jacko Vance’s previous appearance as I had, you can still read this as a story all of its own. It actually made me want to turn straight to ‘Wire in the Blood’.  If I had one small criticism then it would be that the second serial killer did seem to play second fiddle to Jacko. I would have liked a little more of that storyline, I would have been happy to read another 50 or so pages to see it happen. It’s a small niggle though because that storyline does add something in its own right too.

I found ‘The Retribution’ a truly great crime novel. You have an utter psychopath in Jacko Vance, and one who doesn’t do the obvious and really keeps people on their toes and scared. You also have a great mind in the form of Tony Hill and there continues to be an interesting relationship between him and Carol Jordan (which gets really tested in this book). You had both the mixture of knowing one killer but never knowing who they would kill next and also a whodunit with the other serial killer which I liked a lot and didn’t guess at all. I think this shows what a great crime writer Val McDermid is, along with the fact that never in my life did I think I would be so on the edge of my seat as to who would feed a cat. You’ll have to read the book to know what I mean, so go on, go and grab a copy.

I am now very excited about interviewing Val McDermid again (as I have already for We Love This Book) when she comes with MJ McGrath to Bookmarked on Monday the 12th of September, if you can make it do I think its going to be a great night. I am now wondering if I can somehow fit ‘Wire in the Blood’ and another of her standalone’s in before then. What do you think?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Little Brown Publishing, Review, Val McDermid

Trick of the Dark – Val McDermid

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…

Sphere, paperback, 2011, fiction, 544 pages, sent by publisher

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?

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Filed under Little Brown Publishing, Review, Sphere Books, Val McDermid

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?

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