Posted in Book Reviews

Insidious Intent Review

 

Book review: Val McDermid shows no sign of a lost touch in Insidious Intent

Insidious Intent is the 10th novel in Val McDermid’s  Dr Toby Hill  and DCI Carol Jordan series

Insidious Intent is the 10th novel in Val McDermid’s Dr Toby Hill and DCI Carol Jordan series

IN the 30 years since her first novel was published, Val McDermid has written 30 books, both fiction and non-fiction. She shows no sign of slowing down, with her 10th novel featuring Dr Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan hitting the shelves this week with their most bewildering case yet.

A car is on fire on a remote road. Inside is the body of a woman. The Regional Murder Investigation Team, a newly created unit headed by Jordan, is called in to solve the mystery. Unfortunately, the fire brigade reached the car first and washed away potential evidence while putting the blaze out.

Then another woman is found in similar circumstances. Forensically aware, the killer leaves no clues to his identity or his reasons for killing two very different women. With the press on their heels, and a disgruntled senior police officer willing her to fail, Jordan and her team are under pressure to solve the case.

The National:

Jordan has never been more fragile as she finally accepts she is an alcoholic. She fights the urge to drink minute by minute, throwing herself into work as a distraction. McDermid offers an authentic picture of a woman struggling with addiction, “eating away at the slender rope of her well-being and self-confidence”. Hill stays as close to Jordan as she will allow, and tries to stop her blaming herself for everything that goes wrong in her life and those of her family and friends. But guilt is a heavy burden and Jordan still holds herself ultimately responsible for the murder of her brother and his partner.

Hill, a far more complex and interesting character than his television incarnation, has his own troubles to deal with. His deep affection for Jordan is marred by his impotence and the reverberations from his dysfunctional relationship with his mentally ill mother. He tries to support Jordan professionally and personally, risking their friendship in order to help her stop drinking. As Jordan becomes more and more desperate, Hill calmly works out a way to save her from herself.

McDermid employs some pleasingly visual descriptions of minor characters, thumbnail portraits that bring them vividly to life. There is an old man whose face was “wrinkled with a scatter of age spots like a Golden Delicious left too long in the fruit bowl” and a taciturn taxi driver whose “fat descended from his shoulders in waves … he resembled a bull seal who’d been washed up by the tide”.

McDermid also delves further into the lives of Jordan’s team. Paula McIntyre, Jordan’s loyal sergeant, has a happy home life with her partner, Elinor, which is unusual in a crime story featuring obsessive police officers. However, they are looking after Torin, a teenager who has suffered great trauma and who suddenly becomes moody and silent.

Through Torin, McDermid shows how easy it is for even the smartest people to become embroiled in the darker side of social media. The fastidious Stacey Chen, usually wedded to her computers, steps out into real life to help right a wrong, and uses less than legal methods to take revenge for her former boyfriend’s betrayal.

McDermid ratchets up the tension as the investigation hits one dead end after another. The team are pursuing a new kind of criminal, one who is only too aware of police procedures and forensics. They have discovered that he chooses his victims carefully, picking on emotionally vulnerable women at wedding receptions. Posing as the perfect man – kind, polite, gentle, a good listener – he draws women in before disposing of them in a burning car in a remote location. There is a chilling logic to his actions which McDermid emphasises by outlining them in a cool, efficient manner. It is this twisted logic, combined with an extraordinary ability to deceive, that makes this murderer so menacing.

The denouement of this novel is so shocking and unexpected that McDermid has taken the unusual step of including a letter asking readers not to give away the ending. No doubt some will reveal the finale but given the loyalty of McDermid’s huge fan base, it is likely most will accede to her request. This is McDermid’s most expressive and emotional novel to date, giving readers more than just a clever criminal to get their teeth into. It is particularly good to learn more about Hill and Jordan’s supporting cast but the duo remain the passionate heart of the story.

Insidious Intent by Val McDermid is published by Little Brown, priced £18.99

Posted in Book Reviews

Want You Gone – Herald Review

Want You Gone

Chris Brookmyre

Little, Brown £18.99

ONE of the defining characteristics of Chris Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane novels is the development of his protagonist. While other crime luminaries rest comfortably in stasis, Parlabane, like a great white shark, keeps moving. This makes him one of the more fascinating characters in crime fiction, stumbling into one bad situation after another, but finding a way through thanks to his own particular sense of morality.

In this tale, Parlabane is called on to repay a favour and is plunged into the cyber world of hackers. He is in London to attend an interview with Broadwave, an achingly hip online news outlet. His disreputable past is proving a sticking point but the young editor is a fan and Parlabane soon finds himself in gainful employment. He is living in the flat of a friend who is abroad and his life is settling down. When the Royal Scottish Great Northern bank is hacked, Parlabane decides to get in touch with ace hacker, Buzzkill, who has both helped and hindered him in the past. He is hoping Buzzkill will give him inside information, so that he can start his Broadwave career with an exclusive story.

Meanwhile, Sam Morpeth is living in a Kafkaesque nightmare. Her mother is in prison, and Sam has to look after her younger sister, Lilly, who has Down’s syndrome. Giving up her dream of going to university, Sam leaves school and takes a job in a sandwich shop. In order to work full-time, she tries to access benefits to pay for an after-school club for Lilly. However, she must already be working full-time in order to qualify, the benefits officer with a face “like a recently slammed door” tells her. Brookmyre is no stranger to including social comment in his novels and here he takes aim at the benefits system. He piles misery upon misery on 19-year-old Sam, pushing her to the extreme. Sam’s online life keeps her sane but when a stranger calling himself Zodiac, threatens to expose every facet of her life, she is blackmailed into committing crime. Turning to Parlabane for help, she in turn threatens to expose his more illegal actions to ensure his cooperation. Together they devise the crime, all the while looking for a way to outwit Zodiac. Sam has to think of Lilly’s welfare while Parlabane is trying to keep his new job.

Brookmyre’s black humour is evident throughout the novel. Parlabane comes across a receptionist, “wearing roughly as much foundation as Joan of Arc would need for an open-casket funeral”. When he attends a Broadwave party, “everything is so on-trend that the leftovers are likely binned in a few hours for being out of fashion”.

The online duel between Sam and Zodiac could make for very dull reading. However, Brookmyre injects plenty of jeopardy to ratchet up the tension. Sam explains her plan to Parlabane who knows a little about computers but is lost when she starts planting Trojan Horses and finding back doors. He is more at home when he has to charm vital information from unwitting employees. Although a lot of the action takes place in cyber space, it doesn’t stop Parlabane from breaking and entering premises and almost freezing to death while stealing a prototype from a sub-zero lab. Much of the time he and Sam seem to be one step ahead of the police but one step behind the mysterious Zodiac.

This is an older, somewhat wiser Parlabane, who is trying to get his life on an even keel. He develops an unexpectedly paternal relationship with Sam, which means he takes the kind of risks he had promised himself were in the past. It is curious to see him in this role. Disarmed by Sam’s courage and determination to look after Lilly, he seems bewildered by his feelings.

Brookmyre’s plot is full of surprising twists and turns that make it pleasingly difficult to guess the ending, while Parlabane’s evolution forms the emotional heart of the novel. It is an engrossing read, combining appealing characters with a contemporary scenario drawn from the murkier corners of modern life.

%d bloggers like this: