A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
First, an apology to Val McDermid. When I wrote my line for the Coming Up post, I described her book as “gory”. I have since learned, via this interview, that she hates her books being labelled “gory” and thinks that it’s lazy journalism. Whoops! I’m not claiming this blog post as journalism in any sense of the word, but I don’t particularly want to annoy an author I really like. Sorry Val! That said, The Wire in the Blood, like its predecessor in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, contains scenes that are not necessarily for the faint-of-heart and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone of a squeamish disposition.
Jacko Vance is a National Treasure. A former Olympic athlete who tragically lost an arm in an accident, he has since carved out a lucrative television career as a presenter and charity worker. On Vance’s Visits, he travels the country, speaking to the public – especially hospital patients and those down on their luck – and raising huge amounts of money for charity. He is generally one of the Good Guys, and everyone loves him. He’s also a serial killer taking revenge on his ex-girlfriend who left him after the accident that cost him his arm and his athletics career by kidnapping teenage girls and crushing their arms in a vice before letting infection set in to gradually kill them. Like I say, pretty graphic stuff.
This isn’t a spoiler; his tendency for torture is revealed early doors. This novel is all about the chase. Dr Tony Hill is a criminal profiler (think Cracker) who has been invited to set up the National Profiling Taskforce and has recruited a bunch of police officers who have shown potential for having the skills that profiling requires. While working through an example exercise based around a series of seemingly unconnected girls going missing, one of the recruits – Shaz Bowman – thinks she spots a connection. Her theory is ridiculed until she starts investigating by herself and pays the ultimate price. What follows is an exemplary piece of crime fiction, full of interweaving plots, investigators hitting brick walls, and pure suspense and Hill, his old friend Carol Jordan, and the rest of the Taskforce recruits fight to claim justice for one of their own. It’s compelling stuff; a definite page-turner.
I’ve written before about my frustration with those who are snobby about genre fiction; it seems pretty obvious to me that a well-written book is a well-written book, whether it be “literary”, romance, crime, horror, SF, or what have you. I need not rehash that old ground. The Wire in the Blood is a well-written book. McDermid is particularly skilled in the way she develops her characters, all the while maintaining the suspense in the plot. But some scenes are difficult to read – hence my original use of the word “gory”. I’m not saying they don’t work; actually within the context of the plot and the psychological landscape of the characters, they are entirely appropriate and I suspect that if someone is squeamish they probably aren’t a big crime fiction fan generally (she says, making a massive generalisation…). And actually, on reflection, there are more graphic scenes to be found in the first Hill/Jordan novel The Mermaids Singing (another novel I recommend, by the way).
Published in the 1990s, The Wire in the Blood is well on course to be a classic of the genre, and indeed it gave its name to the series of ITV dramas based on McDermid’s characters. If you like crime fiction and haven’t read it, then I strongly urge you to do so. It’s a real chiller.
Val McDermid: The Wire in the Blood (London: HarperCollins, 2009 Kindle edn). Kindle price £2.99.