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The Torment of Others, Val McDermid
on 23 June 2004
The Torment of Others is McDermid's fourth novel starring duo Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, who are, along with Stephen Booth's Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, the most interesting pairing in crime fiction. It is also, possibly, the very best. Not least because it's quite a bit shorter than many of her books - the result is a slightly slimmer, more tight, incredibly tense and suspenseful piece of work.
Two plots run parallel here: the disappearance of two young boys, which itself fades a little in importance when prostitutes begin turning up brutally murdered in grotty rooms. After her ordeal in Berlin, Carol Jordan has been off work in London, but is gradually tempted back to Bradfield by her boss John Brandon, to head a special team that will target particularly high-profile murder cases. Tony Hill, meanwhile, is also back in Bradfield, his stint as a lecturer at St Andrews University having come to an end. The job simply wasn't right for him. He much prefers to indulge in his work in the messy heads of the mentally ill. It is where he feels most at home, and is where he's most effective. He's taken a job at the local mental hospital.
The prostitute murders have particular resonance for the new murder squad, in that they mirror exactly a series of four murders from a few years ago. However, the culprit, Derek Tyler, is now incarcerated in the hospital where Tony now works. Tony's reluctant to accept the possibility of a copycat (they're sexual murders; each perpetrator has very differing needs and desires, thus the patterns of killing should very rarely, if ever, be the same), but what other explanation is there?
The general opinion seems to be that this is McDermid at her strongest, and I would probably agree. It may not be A Place of Execution, but that is a work that, as some reviewers say, "transcends the genre", so I am discounting it. In terms of the Hill/Jordan series, it is every bit as thrilling and inventive as the first, with the added bonus of having a veritable feast of the protagonists emotional turmoils to indulge in. The tension between the two is marvellous, their relationship is an absolute gem. All series detective novels, when taken as an entire unit, are essentially a love story (I think). In this regard, this series of McDermid's is the finest, all the better for that she doesn't fill books and books with it - just one every few years.
The Torment of Others is a very suspenseful, tense, thrilling read. The writing's excellent, very atmospheric, and the climax is exciting and shattering. Definitely so. Excellent work, Val; excellent.