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Having enjoyed the first series of Wire in the Blood when it was shown on TV, I decided to try one of the novels which feature Dr Tony Hill and written by Scottish crime writer, Val McDermid. Tony Hill is a somewhat dysfunctional psychologist involved with criminal profiling who works in close collaboration with DCI Carol Jordan. The Last Temptation is the third book in the series which features these two protagonists.
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Dr Tony Hill is psychologist and an expert at mapping the minds of murderers and when someone begins killing psychologists, leaving a trail of drowned and mutilated bodies across Europe, he's reluctant to become involved. He's semi-retired now and working as a university professor. However, one of the victims turns out to be a friend and suddenly it all becomes personal. Meanwhile his former partner DCI Carol Jordan is working undercover in Germany and asks Tony for his help on her case which seems to have links stretching back into the Nazi past.
It's very strange how female crime writers seem to have a predilection for writing grisly murders, even more so than their male counterparts, and Val McDermid it seems is no exception. This book gripped me from the very beginning. I would describe Val McDermid's writing style as descriptive without being at all flowery and graphic to the point of being almost sickening in parts but above all, she's a darn good storyteller.
The book begins with Tony travelling home in the car from St Andrews where he's working as a professor. This is obviously a part of the country that Val McDermid knows well and the description of the journey is such that I could almost have been in the car with him as he drives along through the Scottish countryside listening to the radio.
Tony is a complex character. Not one I'd class as particularly charismatic or even all that likeable but intriguing nevertheless. He's recently helped to bring a psychotic killer, Jacko Vance, to trial who is now appealing against his sentence and even though Tony is certain that Vance's appeal will fail, it brings back some very bad memories. During Tony's investigation he had been captured and tortured by Vance which is one of the reasons why he is now working in academia. However, when Carol contacts him from Germany where she is now working undercover, he can't resist the lure of a return to a more exciting environment which will give him the opportunity to help investigate the death of his dead friend as well as help his former partner.
Tony's relationship with Carol is fairly tortuous. They are former lovers and former partners but the relationship is marred by Carol and Tony's inability to vocalise their feelings. They both seem to think that any admission of affection would make them vulnerable. However, Tony admits to himself that Carol is never far from his thoughts, even though he's now embarked on a relationship with someone else.
In many ways Carol is an even more difficult character to either like or understand because she's a personality type that I tend to steer clear of in real life. She comes across as hard as nails, ultra efficient and very ambitious. Having failed in her attempt to get the job she wanted, she's been sent to work in Europe, in partnership with Petra, a German police investigator and Carol herself has infiltrated an organisation dealing in human and drug trafficking, headed up by Tadeusz Radecki, an aristocratic and viscious Eastern European crime lord. Carol, it seems, resembles Tadeusz's girlfriend who was recently killed in a road accident. Despite his criminal career, Carol is having to fight the physical attraction she feels for him.
In the meantime, Petra along with another female police officer, Marijke, from the Netherlands police, is tracking the serial killer who seems to be travelling the European waterways leaving a trail of dead psychologists in his wake.
This book therefore has two distinct lines of investigation to begin with, both taking place in Germany, but through the course of the book Val McDermid joins these two threads together in a very plausible manner.
The serial killer is a truly horrific creation, committing absolutely stomach churning murders. However, I have to admit to having a sneaking sympathy for him. I may be a bit of a bleeding heart liberal, but having been shown glimpses of his appalling and abusive childhood, it's understandable that this cruel treatment in his early life has contributed to his psychosis and led him to his killing spree.
I didn't feel quite so well disposed to Tadeusz who was a very nasty character and, in many ways, came across as more evil than the serial killer given that his motivations were based on vengeance, malice and greed as opposed to any mental imbalance.
On reflection, I think I should have begun at the beginning of this series with The Mermaids Singing which perhaps would have given me some further background to Tony and Carol's personalitites and earlier relationships, but this lack of knowledge didn't prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this book.
Val McDermid has written a story full of gritty realism and, be warned, you will need a strong stomach to read some of the passages describing the aftermath of the murders. She has created secondary characters who are fully rounded and believable and it has certainly prompted me to add her to my list of favoured authors.
Published by HarperCollinsPsychological Thriller