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VINE VOICEon 24 June 2000
Val McDermid is one of the few writers which successfully merge the reality of a UK setting with the thrill of the chase.
Her background as a newspaper reporter seems to enable her to write developing stories in a style that makes you feel you are there. Her characters are more human than those found in Patricia Cornwell's police thrillers, and the characters have more depth than the typical James Patterson. She avoids the new realism which seems to demand more explicit torture scenes in short chapters, relying instead on a more thoughtful exposition of the motives involved and a true sense of time in the plotting.
Her development of the personality of Tony Hill is well-paced, and manages to blend the abstract analytical facet of his work with his human frailties and self-blindness.
This book encouraged me to read her back-catalogue works; the schoolgirl mystery stories of Lindsay Duncan and the Warshawski-like Brannigan series which although lighter in tone show the love of detail on which this more mature work depends for its success.
I unreservedly recommend it as a more human approach than Cornwell and created with rather more thought and insight than Patterson.
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on 4 September 2002
What a great book! I was hooked from the minute I began to read. The characters became so real and the plot so nerve-tinglingly tense, that I could not put this book down! By the time I got to the last few chapters, I found myself reading faster and faster just so that I could find out what would happen next - would Batman arrive in time?!!! Seriously though, the detailed descriptions of the killer's methods (to me) were necessary for the heightening of the tension. Without such detail, the killer would not have seemed half as scary or crazy. If you love a good read and have a very strong stomach, read and enjoy!
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"The Mermaids Singing"(1995), a British mystery, was the first of Scottish author Val McDermid's "Wire in The Blood" mystery series, and quite a stir it made, too. McDermid, who is now a prize-winning, best-selling author of 22 novels, is, of course, a leading exponent of the "tartan noir," school of mystery-writing: the specifically Scottish, bloody-minded, tough but slyly humorous approach to a thriller, lightened by the mordant wit for which the Scots are known. As does the entire "Wire" series, "Mermaids" deals with the psychological profiling and stalking of serial killers. It introduces us to, and stars, Dr. Tony Hill, forensic psychologist and criminal profiler; also introduces us to Detective Inspector Carol Jordan, with whom he works. It's a police procedural and rather a suspense/thriller. Her "Wire" series is now, of course, the basis for a popular ITV television series of the same name, Wire in the Blood: Series 1 and 2 (5 Disc Box Set) [DVD] [2002], starring the toothsome Robson Green as Dr. Tony Hill.

McDermid jumped to worldwide fame and popularity on the heels of her A Place of Execution, which was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Novel, won a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She was born and raised in a Scottish mining town not far from Edinburgh, north of the Firth of Forth; won a scholarship to the ancient, highly-prestigious Oxford University,where she read English; and worked for sixteen years as a journalist in Manchester, where she still resides.

Despite her current English residence, she must be considered, along with Ian Rankin and Denise Mina, one of the leading lights of the Scottish school of mystery writing, "Tartan noir." This particular novel, as several others of hers, utilizes that technique so popular in the 1990's, of interspersing supposed "real" information, allegedly taken from books, newspapers, diaries and journals, through the text, and it really doesn't work well for the writer, or for me, it just slows things down every time.

The book is set in the author's fictional Bradfield, which looks a lot like Manchester when it's at home. Authorities have become aware that a sadistic sexual serial killer is torturing and murdering men possibly members of the city's gay community: the powers that be have reluctantly ventured to bring Dr. Tony Hill in on the chase. In the writing of the book, McDermid has borrowed a fairly significant idea from that fountainhead of all serial killer books, Silence of the Lambs , but the author makes good use of it, and pretty much makes it her own. Her "Mermaids" is solidly constructed, well-plotted, and well-written, but be in no doubt: it's gory and violent: only you can know your taste in those matters.

The author opens her narrative in Tuscany, where her killer is on vacation. The unidentified killer has dutifully toured around Florence, and finally gets to go to nearby San Gimignano, which makes some lovely chianti, and is known in the tourist trade as the medieval Manhattan, because the hostile families that lived there erected more than 100 towers to protect themselves from each other. In that walled city the killer finds the true object of the vacation, the "Museo Criminologico," a collection of instruments of torture. Of course, I am an insane, crazed mystery fan, and not that long ago followed McDermid's killer, to Tuscany, Florence, San Gimignano. Loved the ice cream the latter city had to offer, but didn't seem to notice said museum. However, I found it in Florence; stood hesitating in front of it for fifteen minutes, in the pouring rain that washed out that vacation, and never went in. The fellow who's now my husband would have none of it. As I said, only you can know your feelings about these matters.
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on 21 September 2007
This is the first in the series of clinical psychologist Tony Hill, and it kicks off to a good start.
Tony Hill explores the mind of a serial killer, which in turn puts the reader inside the mind of the killer also.
This is a well written psychological thriller which keeps you guessing right till the very end on who is brutally torturing and mutilating men to death.
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VINE VOICEon 6 August 2011
This is good read and explores sexuality in a harsh and graphic way. The story is around catching a serial killer with the backdrop story of a Doctor in Psychology helping form a profile for the police. It was interesting the way the book described the police tactics and struggles - there were good characterisation, which kept you hooked in to the plot and kept the tension up throughout. This book is revealing and not for the feint-hearted.
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This may be a review of a book published in 1995, but eleven years later it still stands tall, together with its creator, among more contemporary peers. The first in what has turned out to be a highly successful series involving criminal psychologist Dr Tony Hill, it is gripping from cover to cover and has that rare bonus of a climax that in every way complements the build-up, even if that climax could be criticised for a slight lack of credibility. Many thrillers or works of crime fiction have complex and exciting story-lines, only for the reader to be let down by the conclusion. Not so with The Mermaids Singing - it has few weaknesses at any point. Not only that, but for anyone who is lucky enough to have no advance knowledge of the outcome, a real surprise is in store! And perhaps the real treat, for want of a better word, is a generally convincing examination of the mind of a murderous psychopath - the motives, the planning, the execution.

It's a serial killer novel, the bodies of the male victims having been deposited in selected locations popular with the gay community in the northern English town of Bradfield (possibly a fictitious amalgamation of Bradford and Sheffield), and having earlier been subjected to a variety of forms of torture using instruments based on historical fact or folklore dating back many centuries. Throughout the course of the story, not only are the police completely stumped as to who the killer might be - they have no suspects at all - the reader is likely to form a similar view, seeing as how the planning of the murders is so comprehensive, with every effort made to leave not a trace of forensic evidence. The killer comes over as highly intelligent, so if I had to level a criticism, I would suggest that this intelligence takes something of a day off in the hour of reckoning, which seems somewhat out of sorts with the character that had been built up in our minds so thoroughly throughout the bulk of the book. It's nit-picking, but another reviewer here is right to point this out - although somewhat more severely than I have done.

This is the novel that introduces us not only to Tony Hill and DI Carol Jordan, but to the earliest seeds of their romance that is to be re-kindled in The Wire in the Blood, The Last Temptation, The Torment of Others, and a fifth novel due out in 2007 provisionally titled Beneath the Bleeding.

Val McDermid's standards are high across her portfolio of some 23 titles over a 20 year span, but Mermaids is probably regarded as one of her very best, and as the owner of 12 of those titles I would immediately place it in the top three alongside A Place of Execution and The Torment of Others. She has that rare talent for writing in a `gender neutral' style, by which I mean that her own gender never seems to display itself and potentially alienate one sector or another of her target audience. We should be proud that she is British (if not English!) because few of the crime fiction superstars of the current era are from this side of the pond. Be in no doubt, just in case you haven't read one of Val's books yet - she's right up at the top with the best.

Incidentally, the title The Mermaids Singing is a small extract from a poem written in 1917 by T S Eliot, called "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".
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I didn't read Val McDermid's 'Tony Hill/Wire in the Blood' series in the proper sequence. I've only just gone back and read 'The Mermaids Singing', originally published in 2009, the first book in the series. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed the read and how fresh and original the story feels. Possibly one of Val McDermid's best books.

In here we have the eccentric profiler Tony Hill, along with his sidekick Carol Jordan, taking on the case of a psychopath with a particular fetish for torture. This isn't the 'usual' psychopath. Val McDermid has created this particular villain to be horribly real and terribly twisted especially when it comes to the question of how they're managing to snare and murder their victims. As the net closes around the killer Tony Hill is also being who?.

There's a cracking pace here and an author showing a great deal of skill in setting up atmosphere and tension. Twists and turns galore. The police procedural aspects are well written and the sexual chemistry between Hill and Jordan adds more heat to an already spicy mix. Good book.

Happy to recommend.
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The Mermaids Singing is my second foray into Val McDermid's work; my first was one of her standalone novels but The Mermaids Singing is the first in her Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, on which ITV's Wire In The Blood is based. I've never seen Wire In The Blood, so came to this book with no real preconceptions about what to expect.

The novel is a gritty thriller about a serial killer torturing and murdering men before dumping their bodies in the gay district of a northern town. Institutional homophobia and the incompetence of a senior officer delay the local police force's decision to treat the crimes as linked, at which point Jordan is assigned to lead the investigation and Hill, a Home Office psychological profiler, joins the team to provide potential insights into the killer's background and lifestyle that could help Jordan focus her search.

Jordan and Hill - particularly Hill, who has a multitude of psychological issues of his own - are interesting lead characters and easy to root for, and their professional and personal relationship provides what is clearly a solid basis not just for a single book but for a long series. The supporting characters aren't especially three-dimensional, although I didn't feel this really mattered; they're primarily there to help move the plot along while we focus on the two leads, and on the killer.

The killer, for me, was actually something of a disappointment, relying quite heavily on some well-worn stereotypes - this book was first published 20 years ago and I think it's a little dated in this regard. Fairly substantial chunks of the novel are told from the killer's point of view, including some very lengthy, excited descriptions of his sadistic and gruesome torture of his victims. I'm not squeamish, so I didn't find this particularly shocking or scary - but I did find it frankly rather dull and repetitive, and largely gratuitous. My primary complaint about this book was that despite the focus on psychological profiling, the psychological elements of the story were actually quite simplistic and obvious, and secondary to what's essentially torture porn for much of the narrative.

All that said, the plot trots along at a decent pace and builds to a tense, race-against-time climax. McDermid's writing is sharp, punchy and unpretentious in a pleasing way that even brings to mind a couple of old-school, classic American crime writers. Also interesting is McDermid's apparent willingness to address police negligence and prejudice.

So, although I could find a few things wrong with this novel, I'd certainly be happy to read another in the same series and I look forward to meeting Tony Hill and Carol Jordan again at some stage.
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on 5 April 2001
I have read all of Val McDermid's books, but this one really had me sneaking a look at the book at work, walking down the street etc etc. McDermid involves you fully with the characters and the action and although you are horrified by the sickness of the crime, you are somehow allowed to understand the killer's mind. I wasn't sure whether to read quickly to get to the end or savour slowly so that I didn't finish it too soon.
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on 21 November 2015
I remember reading and enjoying this book when it was first published twenty years ago, but I had forgotten quite how good it was. I would, however, probably not have thought to re-read it if I had not had a recent exchange on Twitter with Val Mcdermid herself.

This is the first instalment of the series featuring Inspector Carol Jordan and Dr Tony Hill that now extends to several volumes and spawned the television series 'Wire in the Blood'. As is so often the case, the television version sells the books rather short, with a prurient emphasis on the sordid and sensational aspects to the detriment of the well-crafted plots and finely-drawn characters.

This book opens with the police in Bradfield struggling to find new leads in their investigation of some particularly vicious murders in which the victims had not merely been killed but appeared to have been tortured at length beforehand. Opinion within the police is divided as to whether the murders are the work of one serial killer or separate, unrelated perpetrators. Detective Inspector Carol Jordan is convinced that there is a serial killer at work, but has hitherto been unable to convince her boss, Superintendent Cross who is a traditional old school copper. It is also clear that Cross feels that, as the victims have been known participants in Bradfield's vibrant gay scene, they have been more or less asking for it, and he barely avoids using the term 'contributory negligence'. Fortunately, Assistant Chief Constable Brandon is more modern in his approach, and he invites Dr Tony Hill, a practising psychiatrist who has been working with the Home Office to develop a national profiling task force, to help the investigation.

Tony Hill is not without his own demons, but he quickly establishes his bone fides with Carol Jordan and the rest of her team with some astute observations about the murders. In the meantime, the police stage an undercover operation with various officers staking out some of the clubs around Bradfield in the hope of flushing out the killer. One of the police officers is attacked, and then another body is found …

Val Mcdermid manages the plot brilliantly, allowing the tension to mount quickly without compromising the plausibility of the story. The relationships between Hill and Jordan and the different strands of opinion within the police are all eminently credible.
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