I’m ashamed to say that this is only the second Val McDermid book that I’ve read. For a devotee of crime fiction this is like saying you’ve not read Agatha Christie. For like Christie, Val McDermid is a prolific writer, author of 25 crime novels whose writing is enjoyed by millions. The reason for my omission is fairly straightforward. About fifteen years ago someone gave me a copy of Wire in the Blood as a Christmas present and I was so appalled at the way one of the victims was killed that it stayed with me for years. I couldn’t bear to read any more of the writer’s books for fear that I would again have to deal with the brutal savagery of the killings. But McDermid is unapologetic about her writing. In a recent BBC interview she argues that it’s not for writers to ‘airbrush’ violence out of books. Interestingly she also said in the same interview that there are some writers which as a reader of crime fiction she prefers not to read as she feels that they cross a line into gratuitous violence. I never thought McDermid’s violence as gratuitous, I just found it unpalatable.
What made me try her again was firstly her personality. She is incredibly generous to other writers whom she encourages and promotes and is also very articulate about the crime fiction genre. Also, I suspect that I have read a great deal worse in crime fiction in the intervening years and that I have become more immune to brutal imagery. So I downloaded the book onto my Kindle and read it this week. What I hadn’t realised – and I’m sure that this is immediately obvious to McDermid’s readers, is that The Redemption features the very character that put me off the writer’s books all those years ago. Jacko Vance, a charming psychopath jailed for a series of murders, in this latest book escapes from the prison and sets about meting out revenge to those who he holds responsible for his incarceration. What I hadn’t appreciated in Wire in the Blood is how well written a character Jacko is. He is a true psychopath who takes a gratuitous pleasure in killing his victims. I have to admit that I did skim read the new batch of murders he commits. I don’t know what it is about McDermid’s writing but it really has the power to make me recoil when she writes about the killings. I think it’s partly due to the dramatic tension that she builds up so well.
I liked the characters of Dr Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan but I have obviously missed the subtleties of their relationship in the intervening books. There is a parallel murder investigation in The Redemption involving a serial killer who is preying on sex workers in Bradfield. I didn’t feel that this story line was as well-developed as the Jacko Vance murder hunt which was a shame as the concept was quite interesting.
So will I be reading Val McDermid again? Almost certainly but I think I will go on recommendations rather than randomly select titles myself. She obviously writes excellent thrillers – I’ve just got to steel myself for the minutiae of the acts of violence that I find so difficult to stomach.