Tony Hill and Carol Jordan are back, on the hunt for the ‘Wedding Killer’
Val McDermid has written close on 30 award-winning thrillers and suspense novels, in four series, since the late 1980s, all of them featuring a lead female protagonist. She herself worked as a journalist and a crime reporter, and the atmosphere is grittily realistic.
Insidious Intent is the tenth volume in the only McDermid series to feature a partnership – one both emotional, albeit reticent and repressed at times, and professional. Once again, as in all these novels, the title is a phrase from TS Eliot, here “The Love Song of J Albert Prufrock”:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
McDermid, once an English scholar, has a captivating rhythm to her writing – perhaps because of her underlying apprehension of poetry, and affinity with her chosen poet and his ability to plumb human nature. To set the scene, she quotes from De Quincey’s On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts. The interplay of understanding and collaboration between the high-ranking policewoman Carol Jordan, and the clinical psychologist, a profiler of criminals, Tony Hill, is crucial.
Both are middle-aged adults with complex characters and complex histories. They are people of integrity, but all too aware that things are never black and white. Both are heavily compromised by past actions, undertaken perhaps for the best of motives but marred by misjudgements, as well, of course, by the law of unintended consequences.
They are utterly human, weighed down with difficult pasts and unresolved grief and conflict. Tony is more or less living in Carol’s renovated barn, once home to her murdered brother and sister. Their relationship is platonic but stressed, as both may want more; she is also an alcoholic who has gone cold turkey and is desperate, as the story unfolds, for a drink. The reader can practically feel her physical and mental pain as she longs for her fix of choice. Carol is also being stalked by an investigative journalist who seems partly motivated by malice. Lurking behind the present sequence of events is a spectrum of past failures and successes in dealing with the most horrible violent crimes, some psychopathic in nature.