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The Torment of Others - Val McDermid

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Author: Val McDermid / Genre: Crime / Thriller

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      10.04.2005 02:35
      Very helpful




      This is my third experience of Val McDermid. I had been initially attracted by the fact that she is a fellow Scot and that she wrote in my favourite genre – that of the psychological thriller. She is now firmly placed on my favourite author’s list even though I was fairly critical of some of the weaker aspects of The Mermaids Singing.

      ~~~THE AUTHOR~~~

      Even now it amazes me that I’d never discovered this author before. She grew up in Kirkcaldy, a town on the East Coast of Scotland, its most famous “son” being the Adam Smith (the philosopher and economist) and the town itself being well known for the production of linoleum. McDermid became the first woman from a Scottish state school to be accepted at St Hilda’s in Oxford to read English and went on to become a young and enthusiastic journalist. She always wanted to be a writer and struggled as most do, to become accepted by a publisher. It was only as recently as 1991 that she was able to give up her “day job” to concentrate on the work that is her passion – writing.

      Her novels have won international acclaim and she has won a number of high profile awards including the LA Times Book of the Year Award in 2001 for “A Place of Execution”. “The Mermaids Singing” took the 1995 Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year.


      In this novel we return to the fictional City of Bradfield, where a young girl lies dead on a blood-soaked mattress, her limbs spread in a parody of ecstasy. It also sees the return of Detective Inspector Carol Jordan, who has been persuaded by the Chief Constable to head up an elite murder squad that only investigates the “big” cases. This is a significant personal challenge for the DI as on her last assignment she was brutally raped whilst being used as a decoy. She embraces the opportunity enthusiastically and takes many faltering steps along this very personal journey that only serve to make her character more sensitive and human. She is also brought back into contact with Dr Tony Hill, a criminal psychologist who doubles as a profiler for the Police as and when required.

      One of the unique aspects of this novel is that there are several story lines and plots develop simultaneously. Incredibly they are all well managed and none is allowed to outshine the other demonstrating the enormous talent of the author. The elite Unit has handpicked officers based on skills, knowledge and experience and straight away are tackling two major cases, including prostitute killings and child disappearances. There’s an instant drain on resources handling two major investigations and seemingly harsh decisions need to be made about how to invest these wisely. The prostitute killings are happening now and regularly whilst the gaps between the disappearances of the boys are much greater.

      The love interest that sparked between Jordan and Hill in The Mermaids Singing continues and subtly develops throughout the story. They also make a great professional team but personal interaction is often hindered by their depth of feeling for each other, leading them to behave in ways that they may not otherwise. Read the book to find out more!

      The Mermaids Singing (TMS) focused heavily on sexual preference and sexuality and this novel is somewhat similar in that it has lesbian characters, prostitutes and the over riding theme is about power and control, especially in relation to sex. In my review of TMS I was fairly critical of the author’s attitude to sexual sadism. This theme is also evident in this novel, but the writing and thinking do appeared to have matured a great deal making it all so much more believable.

      I found the first half of this book quite gripping and read it with enthusiasm; however, when I got to the second half of the novel where all the loose ends were being tied up and it became frenetic and compelling, I really could not put it down! So much so, that I went to bed at 10.00 pm to read and didn’t manage to put it down until 1.00 a.m. when I had finished it.

      To say any more about the story may give the plot away but if you are a fan of this particular genre I would really encourage you to give this a try. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

      Again, characterisation is the highlight of this novel with the central characters being well defined, and the “love” interest provided between DI Jordan and Dr Tony Hill lends a little voyeurism to the overall plot. Without wanting to give away the end game, DI Jordan is confronted with personal demons and it’s a nail biting finale waiting to find out whether she manages to exorcise them …. Or not, as the case may be. There are strong supporting characters in the shape of the other officers in the elite squad.

      Because the focus here is still about sexual proclivities, practices and preferences you could be forgiven for thinking that Ms McDermid may be formulaic in her approach to writing. I am happy to say this is far from true, and that each novel I have read differs significantly in style and content but remains well written and focused.


      This book was an absolute delight to read and contained all the classic ingredients for a damned good thriller; tension, suspense, terror and compulsion.

      The actual story is exceedingly clever, and has the reader gripped until the last chapter. I thought I had worked out the ending and was making an assumption that this was as “predictable” as some others in this genre, but am delighted to say that my assumption was wrong. I wasn’t at all disappointed to be wrong as the sheer intelligence of the writing will stay with me for a long time to come, although it’s difficult to explain why without giving key pieces of information about the plot away and it’s so worth reading and judging for yourself that I really don’t want to do that.

      As a psychological thriller it works. It’s as terrifying as it is compelling, and eventually very addictive in my opinion. It’s a complex story, intelligently delivered, and filled with drama, suspense and tension that will leave you breathless for more.

      Val McDermid is building up a formidable reputation as an author in this genre and I for one am hungry for more.


      ISBN 0-00-714290-0
      Paperback £6.99
      Published by Harper Collins
      556 terror filled pages
      Available from Amazon new £3.99, used from £2.79


      © Christina ;-) x


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