on 19 December 2011
I couldn't quite believe I was reading a novel by Val McDermid, an author I normally like a lot. In many places, this read rather as I would imagine a Jeffrey Archer book to read. What I found most irritating was the very contrived and unnatural dialogue -- the plot is partially revealed through characters giving each other detailed and pedantic accounts of events they already know about. This contributed to the general lack of credibility of the characters, who seemed more like allegories than multi-dimensional human beings. (I also can't quite believe that anyone could eat as much as these people do.)
The lesbian angle was no problem, though this seemed like a strange world where men are at best peripheral characters. In particular, I found it difficult to recognise the Oxford of the 1990s, which seemed about half a century -- in terms of attitudes to sexuality, gender balance, and the amount of formality between students and academic staff -- behind the Cambridge I attended in the 1970s.
on 27 March 2011
I'm a big Val McDermid fan and agree with others that it's not her best and the plot is a bit implausible, but it's still a page-turner (I just read it in one go on a long-haul flight).
Do buy it - you will enjoy it - but (message to Val) yes, you can do better, and the plot twist felt a bit amateur.
on 17 February 2011
I enjoyed this book and couldn't put it down. I'd agree that it might not have been Val's best novel, but it was still a gripping and entertaining read, with a plot that was probably more plausible than some of her other novels. I found the story slightly too long, and would agree that Charlie Flint as a character was not quite as fleshed out as some of her other characters, but she was still a likeable three dimensional character. This book does not deserve all the extremely critical reviews it is getting.
In response to some of the criticism which I feel is unjust:
I'd argue that the characters are three dimensional. I'd agree some of them are not a strong as characters in her other novels, but the all still had individual and believable personalities.
In response to the criticism that there are too main lesbian characters and also that makes it unbelievable, and/or that it should not be classed as mainstream, and/or too much focus on gay issues and/or that it should contain some kind of warning - these are all ridiculous claims. There are 5 lesbian charcters (plus one historic), that's not loads, they are spread across England (so it's not even like there are 5 in one city, which would of course be completely unbelievable) and there are connections between them for a reason. There isn't a massive emphasis on gay issues, only as much as is relevant to the characters lives and to the plot. If you're gay it is not the main element of your life (and it is not for these characters) but it does significant affect your life experiences, and coming out initially and then every day experiences of homophobia is a part of life. I don't see why people object to reading about these experiences (and so need some kind of warning so they can avoid it) and think a novel with a leading gay character shouldn't be classed as mainstream crime fiction. Are they really only interested in reading books that reflect your experience of life?! I'm a white, 30-something, gay, university educated, not disabled, left-handed English and British female-born-female living in 2011. However I read books with Black, Asian, mixed-race and White; male and female (including transgendered); straight, gay and bisexual; working class, middle class and upper class characters, set in a range of different decades and centuries, including hypothetical future decades, and including decades which have now past but were future decades at the time of writing. I read novels set in countries I have never been to, novels set in fictious countries and worlds, and novels featuring magic and science fiction. I find this thought provoking and educational. It would be extremely boring and limited to only read about characters who are just like me or who I interact with on a frequent basis.
on 28 April 2011
This is the first review I've written but felt compelled to inform Val McDermid fans that this book is not worth adding to your collection.
'Wire in the blood' is one of my favourite novels by any author but Val McDermid seems to be gradually losing her knack. Recent novels that may have had silly conclusions (I.e. Fever of the bone,a darker domain) at least had exciting and intriguing premises with twists along the way. I can't even recall any events in 'Trick of the dark' that made me really consider whodunnit as Val makes it so that there are no other viable culprits. There are several glaring plot holes which the finale actually highlights to the reader
Previous novels have consistently included jaw-dropping twists/cliffhangers that have kept me reading which is solely what kept me reading- believing my predictions would be uptrumped.However now knowing Val can write a novel that so 'basic' makes me less inclined to keep reading her output.
In regards to the overabundance of lesbian characters/themes, I, as a gay man, would have been pleased to hear val mcdermid explore more lgbt issues,particularly in her descriptions of a infidelity in a long term marriage (mentioned on page 2 so not a real spoiler!).However the descriptions of relationships are trite and cliched. It actually reads as if written by someone with no insight into the gay community and more like teenager fanfic.
While I'm reluctant to pass criticism,this is a lazy attempt that readers are not accustomed to. Might go back to digging out her earlier output.
on 9 November 2010
I've read most of Val McDermid's earlier books but I must admit, Tony Hill just didn't grip me and I moved on to crime writers new. However, after reading reviews in the newspapers for Trick of the Dark, I thought I'd give this book a go and managed to finish it in a couple of days whilst on holiday. The book is a classic slow burner and does indeed take a while to get going but it's a book that draws you in and leaves you unable to put it back down until the end. Yes, the plot is a little predictable in places and yes, some of the dialogue may be a little dry but this doesn't detract from the overall appeal of the book. It is nice to see lesbian main characters in mainstream Top 10 fiction but that is not what this book is about. Complex relationships and life changing decisions abound, Trick of the Dark is an excellent read and Val McDermid remains on top form.
on 12 August 2011
I've just finished reading Trick of the Dark. This is my first Val McDermid book. Did I enjoy reading it? Yes, it was a page turner. I thought I was being quite clever guessing who the villain was only to come here and see that it was quite blatant to everyone else as well. I did get the impression when reading the denouement that I could have written it myself which isn't the greatest compliment. The main character annoyed me somewhat and didn't come across as all that talented at reading other people. I'm assuming that this is not one of Val's greatest pieces of writing, but nevertheless I shall pick up another one of her better regarded books after browsing Amazon's reviews section.
on 12 May 2015
I rarely write reviews but after reading and enjoying most of McDermid's books, I consider it my duty to warn her fans. This is absolute, convoluted piffle. I struggled and struggled with this, finally giving up half way through. Cruelly, I took the book down the charity shop.
on 17 August 2011
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.
on 10 June 2011
Having been a Val McDermid fan for many years I was eager to read this latest book but was bitterly disappointed with it. As previous reviewers have said the plot was poor, no suprises or twists, and a very predictable plod. As a crime writer she appears to have lost her magic touch. Also we live in 2011 not 1911 and whilst there may still be the odd bigoted dinasaur still around who cannot accept the gay community I found it an insult that this book is written with the constant assumption the reader is homophobic. The book came across as half an attempt to write a crime novel and half an attempt at public education and unfortunately the end result was not one of her better books.
on 17 October 2010
As the book opens, Dr. Charlotte ["Charlie"] Flint finds her professional life as a forensic psychiatrist in tatters, her reputation destroyed, and awaiting a hearing by the General Medical Council to will decide whether or not she can be reinstated as an expert in her field.
Magdalene ["Magda"] Newsam, a pediatric oncologist, is a 28-year-old woman whose husband was killed on their wedding night, attending the trial of her husband's partners for his murder. One of the two hubs of this book is Magda's mother, Corinna Newsam, who was Charlie's tutor while an undergraduate at St. Scholastika's College, Oxford University, which is the other point around which all else revolves. Each of the characters' ties to Corinna and Oxford have shaped their lives to this point. As is the case also with Jay Stewart, wildly successful businesswoman in the throes of writing her second memoir following her first bestseller, the point of view throughout the book variously that of the three younger women.
Corinna asks Charlie to investigate whether, as she suspects, Jay Stewart had something to do with her son-in-law's death, mostly due to the fact that Jay is now romantically involved with Magda. Seeking redemption, Charlie agrees. As the solution drew near, the feeling that I knew what lay ahead didn't diminish the suspense or the intricacy of the plot. And, of course, I was completely wrong in my expectations.
Few of the characters in the book are male; few of the romantic relationships/entanglements are heterosexual, a fact noteworthy only in the prejudices thereby aroused in others which are essential to the plot. The novel, though somewhat lengthy, is an absorbing and worthy addition to Ms. McDermid's past novels, and is recommended.