It had been a while since I had read a Val McDermid book, and even longer that her recurring character of profiler Tony Hill had been in one. Having been made into a TV series with Robson Green playing Hill, the automatic mind's eye then reverts to type and gives you a preordained mental image of the character, such was the gap between my first Tony Hill book and this one.
I must admit, most of McDermid's earlier work and in particular her stand alone novels, are excellent. Thrilling, twists and turns and with that knack of being really hard to put down, so Beneath the Bleeding had been sitting on my shelf for a long time threatening to be read next. I finally took the plunge, and the book flowed very freely indeed. However, it wasn't a free flow that was because it was gripping; rather that there wasn't much substance in the first chunk of the book, it was all setting the scene.
One disadvantage of reading books out of sequence is that you'll often get passages which don't make sense as they refer to events in previous books. This is very much the case here, and while previous events are covered enough to understand the importance of them, certain things are brought up a number of times and it detracts from the reader's enjoyment if they're not privy to the previous books.
What is clear is that McDermid needed a way to introduce something new to the approach, and this must be one of the hardest things to do for an author looking to add something different to a familiar mix. The clever element is that she renders the usually very involved Tony Hill immobile by involving him in an attack right at the start of the book that results in him being hospitalised for the majority of the impending case. The platonic relationship he has with DI Carol Jordan, often mistaken for romance by many, is tested by the inclusion of his domineering mother to the mix, although to what ends we're not certain for a while.
So when a case actually presents itself, McDermid has already ensured that a different approach must be taken. A Premiership Bradford footballer is poisoned with poison usually associated with terrorism, ricin. and this sets alarm bells ringing. As Jordan and her team investigate, us readers are privy to a secondary plot thread running, that of a potential bomb to be set off at Bradford's stadium, and the poisoner is not done with his task either. Jordan faces not only an intensely public and politically sensitive case, but the arrival of the local terrorist task force, a collection of rude and obnoxious egotists in SWAT gear and sunglasses. With Hill only able to help from hospital, despite his stubborn attempts to get mobile too early, the pressure is on even more than usual, and McDermid gives us something with a slightly different front.
Like I said, it had been a while since I'd read a Tony Hill book, but even so there was significant difference that I managed to notice just fine. The main one was that the clinical plot development was somewhat missing. There were moments where things developed quickly, but then they slowed down and there were a stack of pages developing something else, or providing information about Hill's mother's visits. You could tell there was something going on there, but it was never really all that clear. The characters were thrown out of their comfort zones, and in all honesty it was a bit too much. Throwing a modern form of crime into the mix and switching the narrative between Jordan, Hill and those involved from a nefarious perspective could have worked, but not while Hill was in hospital, the terrorist squad were treading on everyone's toes, previous books' events were being revisited to develop character and explain, and Jordan was sneaking around behind the SWAT lookalikes' backs. It was too much to be able to just relax and enjoy.
Don't get me wrong: it's still good; it just doesn't pass muster when compared to McDermid's other work that I have read. I'm not certain that some of the character developments would even work in the long run, although some characters are very well utilised indeed. There are clear developments for subsequent titles in the series, and I should think that a lot of them work very well, but this seems almost like the aftermath of a detox from the author, and an attempt to revitalise the same people and places without them having to be replaced.
There are some great moments, and the twists and some of the revelations are extremely well thought out. There is closure on a lot of parts of the book, and while I could see that a lot of things were earmarked for subsequent titles, it would have nice for it to finish with a bit more clarity that it did. I enjoyed reading it, as McDermid's writing style is very fluid and easy to digest, while maintaining enough detail to mean that it's clearly deeper than something like a James Patterson novel, for example. However, the combination of too much going on and too much change was a bit too awkward to take in all in one go, and so I wouldn't earmark this as one of her best. Worth a read, but nothing special.
Once again the books in the Supermarket decided I simply had to own them and a few weeks ago I came home with a double pack of Val McDermid books, this her newest publication and an older book. So never one to read things in order I picked this one off my to read pile first.
We dive straight in to the plot with a patient at the Bradfield Moor Secure Hosptial deciding that now is the time to start taking people to Him, unfortunately this patient has been cunning enough to avoid taking his medication and its calming effect has worn off.
Tony after this is stuck in hospital himself, and Carol has been handed a case which is firmly in the media glare. A local football star has died and it looks like he has been poisoned. But there is no obvious motive for this man to be killed.
Tony stuck in his hospital bed finds out that another man has been poisoned recently in the area, though it doesnt seem that there is a link he becomes convinced there is when he finds they both attended the same school.
While Carol and her team are chasing down dead ends and generally treading water in the case, a bomb goes off in the stadium during a match at Bradfield Victoria. Initially having control of the case Carol soon has to hand it over to the Counter Terrorism Control team. The CTC's methods go against her beleifs about policing, not to mention that she doesnt believe that the bombing was a terrorist attack at all.
As always with McDermid the story is realistically paced, though Tony takes some wild leaps in his deductions not being a psychologist I couldn't say if they are impossible connections to make.
With an interesting storyline which doesnt have an obvious conclusion and a setting which over the course of the books has become well known to the reader anyone who has liked Val McDermid will continue to enjoy her work with this one, and anyone new to her work will be able to pick this up and understand the story as a standalone as well as a part of the series. If as many people will have done you have watched Wire In the Blood then you will already know the characters and setting which for me means I cant imagine Tony and Carol as looking any different from the actors who play them in the series which I find lets me get lost in the story quickly.
At just under 500 pages long its a reasonable length book and when I bought my copy was part of a double pack with Mermaid Singing for under £5, but can now be found in all the usual places for less if you want a used copy.
'Beneath the Bleeding' is the latest in Val McDermid's series of crime fiction novels featuring psychological profiler Dr Tony Hill and Detective Inspector Carol Jordan. If you haven't read any of the novels, you may have seen some of them used as the basis for the television series 'The Wire in the Blood' starring Robson Green and Hermione Norris. It's not essential to have read the previous books but past incidents are referred to quite often through the course of this novel and do shed light on how the relationship between Tony and Carol has reached the strained point the reader finds in 'Beneath the bleeding'.
If you haven't seen the television series or read any of the other novels, the basic premise is this: slightly odd but highly insightful psychologist Tony Hill works for the Home Office and when he's not assessing the patients in a secure hospital for convicted criminals with severe mental health problems, he helps the local police in challenging cases by using psychological profiling to create a suspect description that might lead to a breakthrough. This has given the series an interesting and meaty angle with a thrilling psychological aspect; as Tony explains to Carol what makes a serial killer tick, so the reader learns more about what makes someone kill and how the police use psychology to solve crimes.
'Beneath the bleeding' differs slightly from the usual style readers have come to expect from the series. At the beginning of the book Tony Hill is the victim of an attack that sees him laid up in the same hospital where the Bradfield football team's star striker is fighting for his life. When one of the doctors treating the footballer realises that the footballer has been poisoned with ricin Carol Jordan's team are called in to investigate. Not wanting to be idle, Tony starts to investigate the case too - from his hospital bed.
Days after the footballer's death, a huge bomb is detonated at a sell out match at the football stadium, killing tens of people and injuring hundreds more. Is it related to the killing of the football star or is it a terrorist plot that was already planned? When Tony finds a possible case that might be linked to the poisioning, he has to convince the sceptical Carol that although the connection appears tenuous it is worth investigating.
What makes this book a little odd - but that's not necessarily a negative - is the way that two quite different plots run parallel to each other. First the poisonings - it's almost in the vein of Agatha Christie - poisoning is a rather archaic form of murder and the way Tony investigates them from his hospital bed is reminiscent of old-fashioned detective work based on a great deal of thinking. On the other hand there is the bomb storyline which is very topical and one that I think Val McDermid handles excellently. This part of the story comes as no surprise - it's there to read on the book jacket (something that I found a little surprising though) - and I was worried that it might come across as either incredibly cliched or particularly 'right on' and politically correct.
Both threads are credible enough and give readers plenty to ponder about. The way each is told also contrasts sharply. The poisoning storyline is told through the police investigations and the reader only learns as much as the police. The other thread is told through the characters involved and could have been in interesting aspect of the book but it fails to deliver the psychological insights present in the other novels in the series; quite simply it missed a prime chance to deliver what Val McDermid fans love most about her books.
Having read all the other books in the series I am well acquainted with the main characters but I must say I am now finding that the dysfunctional relationship between Tony and Carol is casting a dark shadow over the whole thing. While there has to be something more to the relationship than the work connection, I am beginning to tire of the 'will they, won't they scenario'. The introduction of Tony's more or less estranged mother in 'Beneath the bleeding' makes some attempt to deal with this situation but - and I found this most surprising - Val McDermid has created in Mrs Hill the most incredible character I have encountered in her books. In the end the introduction of the character fails to bring anything meaningful to either the novel alone or the series as a whole.
Another meaningless feature of the story is Tony's hospitalisation which does little other than slow the story down as Tony languishes helplessly in bed wishing he could play more of an active role. Believe me I wanted that too - it would have reduced the page count by at least fifty. Val McDermid was herself laid up after surgery when she started writing 'Beneath the bleeding' so maybe this was her inspiration for Dr Hill's predicament?
The secondary characters are believable enough although they are the standard stock of crime fiction; the family in denial, the agitated football manager who fears the loss of his star striker, the grieving widow - all competently drawn but somehow lacking any sparkle.
As crime fiction goes this is undoubtedly a confident and accomplished piece of writing and readers familiar with her work would expect nothing less. The plots are watertight and certainly give the reader plenty to mull over but there are no huge twists and nothing to really get excited about. 'Beneath the bleeding' is a far cry from the debut novel of the series 'The Mermaids Singing' which shocked and stunned at every turn. These days the flawed and complex relationship between the two central characters to too dominant while the psychological aspect that was always the draw is barely there at all.
That said there's still enough to enjoy. Classy writing, clever plots and a good pace do save this novel. Possibly better read as a stand alone, 'Beneath the bleeding' is a good choice for armchair detectives and shows why Val McDermid is still one of the most popular contemporary British crime novelists.
The terrifying new psychological thriller featuring Tony Hill, criminal profiler and hero of TV's Wire in the Blood. The race is on to uncover the identity of a murderer with nothing to lose -- and everything to kill for. When Robbie Bishop, star midfielder for the Bradfield Vics, is poisoned by a rare and deadly toxin, profiler Dr Tony Hill and trusted colleague DCI Carol Jordan have their work cut out for them. Robbie was adored, so the public want answers -- but the answers aren't coming, and trails are running cold. Then a bomb explodes in the football stadium, causing massive casualties -- and another man dies from poisoning. Is there a link between the cases? And what are the motives for these crimes? The clock is ticking for Tony and Carol -- and the death toll keeps rising!