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 queen of crime on the new generation of writers, how the genre has changed in 30 years – and how she’s promised not to kill off Tony Hill and Carol Jordan.
My readers are probably going to kill me,” Val McDermid announces cheerfully when we discuss the ending of her latest novel. Her new Tony Hill and Carol Jordan book, Insidious Intent, is published on Thursday, and the reaction of fans to how she has chosen to end it will be interesting. “There’s a certain fear of being stoned in the street,” she chuckles.
We meet at the Theakston Old Peculier crime writing festival in Harrogate, where McDermid is practically royalty, and she has murder on her mind. This is not unusual, she says; quite frequently a pleasant weekend away will turn her thoughts to homicide. There was the time when she spotted a wedding party during a crime and mystery conference at her old college, St Hilda’s, Oxford, “and by the end of the afternoon it seemed to me that the logical thing that was going to have to happen was that the bridegroom would be dead by bedtime. And by the end of the weekend I had the basic shape of the story in my head.” That flight of fancy turned into the 2010 novel, Trick of the Dark. And then, more recently, she and her partner went on a boating holiday. “In France you can moor up anywhere, and in order to facilitate this they give you five sharpened steel stakes, about two foot long, and a big hammer. And I’m looking at this and thinking, isn’t that a great murder weapon? And we’re cruising through wooded banks with no access from the road. And I’m saying to my partner, ‘This is a perfect murder here …’ By this time my partner is inching away from me. So, we were on this lovely romantic holiday, and my thoughts turned to murrrder.” She pronounces the word with obvious relish.
OUTSIDE the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, crowds are gathering in anticipation of catching sight – or rather whiff – of the rotten, flesh-like smell of the famed corpse flower that is fleetingly in bloom beyond the gates.
As Val McDermid and I join the throng, it is corpses of a different kind that spring to mind. This month the Fife-born writer will publish her latest novel, Insidious Intent, which centres on a serial killer who stalks his victims at wedding receptions.
McDermid, 62, is often asked whether advances in forensic science have undone the job of the crime writer. The thriller, which sees DCI Carol Jordan and psychological profiler Tony Hill return for their 10th outing, cleverly turns that notion on its head.