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Above the Average
on 12 August 2007
Val McDermid has written some wonderful crime fiction tales in her time but she is probably best known for the series involving psychological profiler Dr Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan, based in the fictional Yorkshire city of Bradfield. Expectations are bound to be high for this, the fifth in the 'Hill-Jordan' collection of novels so far, following hot on the heels of the fifth in the associated Wire in the Blood TV dramatisations. In effect there are two stories running in parallel with each other, one the hunt for a serial killer and the other the search for a mass murderer, each person displaying very different methods but sharing an obsession for careful planning and forward thinking.
Knowing that the author herself recently went through considerable pain and discomfort as a result of major knee surgery, I cannot help but regard her decision to place Tony Hill in a hospital bed recovering from - guess what - major knee surgery for very nearly the entirety of this story's time span as something of an indulgence on her part, possibly a gesture of thanks to those who treated and cared for her, I don't know, but I got the impression that this strand of the plot was slightly at odds with everything else that was going on. It did however enable the author to introduce Tony Hill's mother in a thread that promised interesting developments but ultimately faded into insignificance. On the other hand it did offer an insight into the complicated personality of Dr Hill, and in that respect the mission was successful. Of course, anyone who has seen the Wire in the Blood series on TV will visualise actor Robson Green as Tony Hill in this book, personally I did not find this a distraction at all as the actor plays the part very convincingly.
The modus operandi of the serial killer is compared to a hypothetical character in an Agatha Christie novel, something of a cop-out in my opinion, so as to confess to such an analogy before the reader can make such an accusation. But the thoughts, emotions and objectives of the bomber are by comparison absolutely contemporary, relevant and described with chilling effect. It is almost uncomfortable to read at times as it feels like a peep into the mind-set of individuals responsible for suicide bombings (successful or otherwise) which is of course very much a happening-right-now issue in the world we live in.
Beneath the Bleeding is described on the back cover as `The new Tony Hill thriller' but I consider that almost unfair, as in this, just as in the previous four in the series, Carol Jordan plays an equally important and leading role. At the end we are hardly any the wiser as to the status of their personal relationship, one which was rather strangely tested to the limit in this latest outing. I felt that Carol's animosity towards Tony for the majority of this story, in response to his efforts to solve the two murder hunts, lacked any real foundation. Carol and her team, despite their best efforts, continually made no progress at all while Tony was putting forward suggestions that Carol should have taken more seriously, based on their long-running professional respect for one another.
Hand on heart this is not quite up to the brilliant standard of THE MERMAIDS SINGING (the first in the Tony - Carol series, published in 1995) but no fan of Val's will be disappointed, she continues to demonstrate a highly professional approach to story-telling and she will surely gain many new admirers for her writing skills, especially in the crucial area of characterisation.