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A Bold Plot Held Up By Strong Characters
The Wire in the Blood - Val McDermid
Member Name: missrarr
The Wire in the Blood - Val McDermid
Advantages: Great characters written with conviction and belief
Disadvantages: Slightly unbelievable plot but held together by the strength of writing and characters
Recently the commute has been grinding me down to the extent whereby all I could do was get on a train, stick on my iPod and try to top up my sleep levels. But since the unutterably wonderful Mr Rarr took me away on holiday I feel thoroughly recharged and as such have found myself relishing the chance to get back on a train after a day's work and crack open a book. Recently, I dusted off a copy of Wire In The Blood by Val McDermid, a copy that I had forgotten I owned, so long it had been since I read it.
Scottish writer Val McDermid is of course responsible here for the characters that form the TV series based on her work and taking this novel's title. Hermione Norris and Robson Green, even though I was not a fan of the TV series not so much through lack of interest but lack of time to watch it, in my mind have now merged with my interpretation of the characters.
Despite her main body of work being hard-hitting crime work, McDermid is also a children's author; first published outright in 1987 for her more regularly recognised work, McDermid published Wire In The Blood in 1997.
For more on the author herself, visit www.valmcdermid.com
I haven't read the book that precedes this novel, in which Dr. Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, but the plot to that book is quickly revisited in this as we initially meet Dr Hill, a brilliant psychological profiler who had recently endured not only meeting a fascinating colleague and woman in her own right, Carol Jordan, but as a result of that scenario also having to fight for his life. The mental scars and ongoing confusion about his relationship with the high-flying police officer continue into this book.
Hill is now charged with heading up a Nationally-scouted psychological profiling task force, a bid to utilise the growing undeniability of the use of such techniques in a world that still was adjusting to adapting it to "old style" copper work.
Meanwhile Jordan has moved at the encouragement of her boss, John Brandon, following him to a new role of her own. Before long she has suspicions that a flurry of small fires in the new area she has found herself in could be more than just individual bunches of kids having a laugh at weekends, and is prying deeper, but before long Hill, who would have loved to have had her on the task force he is working on training, is in touch with her with a far darker enquiry.
In training his team of promising young coppers, Hill set a theoretical practise exercise based on real cases cobbled together from the past dozen or so years from across the country's databases. All are missing persons. The challenge to his eager young team, all hailing from different backgrounds and with differing personalities, is to see if they could find any links, the premise - and this being his real theory - being that there could well be serial killers operating over long periods of time that simply never come under the radar due to the victims never being linked in an era, still ongoing now, in which people could disappear very easily.
Shaz Bowman, by far the most committed and determined student of Hills', is the only one who comes up with a properly researched plot. Yet she takes it a step too far in her enthusiasm and thus endures the ridicule of her peers and the almost awkward praise of Hill and Jordan, who he had called in to help support the training of his new team, in regard to her methodology and approach.
Not enough for the determined Shaz, she chases the lead she is sure she has not invented out of pure enthusiasm and eagerness to please alone. Before long it becomes apparent that her suspicions were not without merit, and a member of the fledgling team is put in terrible danger.
The subsequent investigation that springs from this theoretical exercise throws up the possibility that there has, indeed, been a serial killer operational for some time, and many people have to try to pursue a possible candidate that the official investigating officers don't want to contemplate.
I've tried to say what I can here and above without putting in too much by way of spoilers.
If you have seen the episode of the TV version of this writer's work that is based on this book you might want to be aware that there has been a big alteration between the interpretation of the basic storyline, but that's understandable when having to adapt plots written for long books when putting them in short TV show formats.
Apart from that, I will try to avoid any spoilers from now and instead concentrate on my enjoyment of the book.
First of all, Hill and Jordan are well-crafted characters. Hill's brilliance lies in his own failings and he has a familiarity with his ability being a result of characteristics that mirror, albeit channelled differently, those he pursues.
Jordan is a high-achiever, a committed and diligent "copper", but in their first case together she admitted she had become attracted to Hill, who for reasons that are played out in this book to new readers, had to reject her. Their unprecedented, yet genuine and supportive, relationship - somewhere between friendship and something more - starts to develop further in this book, yet their working ability together is undeniably massively effective.
The new students in Hill's team and those in Jordan's are very different, both between their own teams and in comparisons as whole groups, yet both suffer loss in this book and this is illustrated well.
The other main characters are believable but clearly based on stereotypical media types, although I can't speak for McDermid's interpretations of the higher-ranking police officers from anything other than my own interpretation of such TV series and books of this genre - but nothing jarred.
Admittedly the storyline is ambitious and highly intricate, and I found it hard to completely disregard my disbelief that all these individual instances would have fallen into place, all these strange people finding one another when they needed to, but the testament to McDermid's writing ability is that you cannot once think "this is ridiculous", put the book down and forget about it. Her strength is in her characters, and whilst the basic descriptions of the graphic nature of the crimes her protagonists commit are shocking initially, they are also vague - in this book we find out what has been done to a victim after it has been done, not the act itself, sparing the reader of the potentially horrifically graphic nature of description that would be required. That said, one murder is documented more thoroughly.
***SO, A READ-AGAIN?***
I will probably read this again in a few years when I have again forgotten what happened! I do that quite a lot, but something that fails on a second or third reading soon finds itself going missing from my collection - and ones that don't do it first time around obviously don't get that far!
I enjoyed this book. The development of the colleagues in the policing environment are what grasped me and this was more interesting than the insights into the killer themselves. The strength of characterisation is a winning trait in McDermid's writing and for that I have to recommend her - there is a reason that a top series was commissioned on this basis. Whilst I found some aspects of the plot fanciful - not because of the same reasons that the enthusiastic young copper Shaz based her theory on, but because of the unlikely scenario of all these strange personal foibles of the protagonists falling into place and being maintained for so long. On the other hand, McDermid had put together a watertight explanation of how this has been so, which is greatly to her credit.
The main point is that I could not put this down. I read it in the morning on trains when I could have been asleep. I read it to distract myself from crying when Mr Rarr and I said goodbye at the train station platform when I knew it would be a fortnight before we would see each other again (pathetic, yes, but he's a very nice chap!), I read it to detract from nerves about a big day at work this week and I read it for short, grasped minutes at a time when I could get a seat two stops from my destination on the tube, and then I read a bit more when I got home and went to bed. It reignited my bookworm tendencies in a big way, and therefore I can't do anything other than recommend this book.
I may not have started McDermid's series of these characters in the right place, indeed I'm not sure what that is, but I have read one later than this and I must also add that McDermid does reintroduce existing readers and gently introduce new ones to her main characters extremely well, setting the pace and scene for both the thriller aspect and the personal one of her work. A top-class crime writer and this is a great offering.
Available for £5.59 new on Amazon in paperback. Also available in Kindle form.
Thanks for reading.
Summary: A gripping example of why Val McDermid work made it to the screen