Book review: The Wire In The Blood by Val McDermid

This may be Val McDermid’s most famous book—it’s been widely acclaimed and televised, and as I recall it was a big hit on the Australian ABC when it came out as a mini series. And I can see why. It has a touch of Thomas Harris about it; macabre, graphic, tense, thrilling... but I thought The Wire In The Blood beat Silence Of The Lambs hands down.

The story

This is the second Carol Jordan/Tony Hill double act, following up their initial meeting in The Mermaids Singing. Basically, the story goes that Carol Jordan has been promoted to Detective Chief Inspector of the little country town of Seaford. She thinks that the sleepy little community has a serial arsonist on their hands; her team aren’t so keen on the idea. Tony Hill has other fish to fry; he is heading up and training the new National Offender Profiling Task Force in Leeds, with some bright young detectives to teach all he knows. The new task force is given a theory exercise—look through some missing persons reports for clusters, and see if there could be an indication of a serial offender operating amongst them. Shaz, the brightest of the detectives, spots a cluster... and relates it to Jacko Vance, sporting and charity personality and all round good guy.

When her classmates, and Tony, blow her theory out of the water, Shaz takes it upon herself to follow up the investigation herself. Unfortunately, Shaz follows a bit to close and Tony and the rest of his team not only find themselves accused of murder, but also trying to follow Shaz’s lead to a very unlikely killer. Carol Jordan is called in to assist in this informal investigation, but will this lead to her neglecting her own patch? And can they really catch this serial killer who seems to be untouchable, before he kills again?

The style

I think one of the reasons Val McDermid does the whole crime fiction genre so well is her ability to portray and develop character, which is often lacking in other examples of the genre. Tony Hill and Carol Jordan are well rounded, not without their flaws, and not self-consciously written. McDermid lets them speak for themselves in their actions, and doesn’t try too hard to attain reader sympathy. The secondary characters are also well developed, but not overly so. Their actions also speak, and they all have appropriately developed personalities. Also, while McDermid comments about certain aspects of the police department—for example,entrenched sexism—she doesn’t go overboard or make mass generalisations. She also allows the character’s actions to speak for any attitudes or occurrences.

Wire In The Blood is told in the third person limited by a range of characters including Tony, Carol, Jacko Vance, Jacko’s wife, Shaz, and some others. In the instance of Carol’s arsonist, the narration occurs without revealing the identity of the arsonist to the reader until the police have worked it out; in the instance of Jacko Vance, his is the first narration so we KNOW he is a bad guy from the word go. These are good devices to employ together and keeps the reader’s interest in two different ways: in the story about Jacko Vance, we know it’s him, and that he’s smart, and we are privy to his actions and thoughts to better try and figure out how he will be caught. In the story of Carol’s arsonist, we only know as much as the police until he is discovered, so we are sympathising with the police story and trying to work out who he is. Most books don’t use both devices simultaneously, but it is a little extra interest to keep the reader piqued. Furthermore, two plot lines in the story keep it moving and interesting, and, once you get into it, the whole book’s pretty more-ish if you go in for the crime thriller... which I do.

I’ve read quite a few Val McDermid’s, and while I don’t know that this is the best one, it is still great for the genre, although the ending, while great, is such a cliffhanger...

Who is this book for?

Lovers of the crime fiction/thriller genre, this is an excellent example of a good crime fiction. On the edge of your seat with great chase scenes, good suspense, and just enough graphic violence to gross you out but not appear gratuitous.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Read more Val McDermid! You may also like Ian Rankin for some more British crime. And if you want to experience other decent crime, try Henning Mankel, Michael Dibdin, Janwillem Van de Wetering, or Barry Maitland—all non-American crime/detective fiction authors who aren’t disgracefully bad, and James Ellroy for a great American crime writer.

In short

Title: The Wire In The Blood
Author: Val McDermid
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 0140275487
Year published: 1997
Pages: 373
Genre(s): Crime fiction, Thriller