[Disclaimer: I received a review copy via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.]
Cross and Burn is the eighth installment in Val McDermid's Tony...more[Disclaimer: I received a review copy via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.]
Cross and Burn is the eighth installment in Val McDermid's Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, which follows a criminal psychologist, a police detective, and the crimes they solve. Except, because of the extreme events of the previous book, The Retribution, Tony and Carol become side-players here, while supporting character Paula McIntyre takes the lead. It's an interesting departure from the established format, and I really enjoyed the results.
In The Retribution, Tony and Carol's relationship and, in effect, lives were thrown into complete disarray by the actions of a serial killer. It was dark and it was painful and at the time I remember feeling that the stakes were ultimately too high, to the point that it was hard to see a road back for either of them. Cross and Burn deals with the aftermath of those events, and by minimising their roles, allows for breathing room and time for the healing process to begin. It's cathatic, realistic, and ultimately re-instilled hope for both their futures.
The case at the centre of the book is an interesting one (and unsurprisingly graphic) - a killer is bumping off blondes who look like Carol, leaving Paula to deal with the aftermath both on a personal and professional level. She's always been one of, or even the most promising supporting character, and easily shoulders the additional weight she's granted in this book. Given her recent promotion to a new firm, the characters from the MIT that have formed the focal point of many investigations from previous novels are either absent entirely, or reduced to a few walk-on scenes. I actually had no problem with this, given that I'd personally found the cast a little over-full in the past few books anyway.
Where things do get a bit weird is with Paula's new boss, DI Alex Fielding. Viewers of the Wire in the Blood TV series will know her as Simone Lahbib's character - Carol's replacement post-Hermione Norris's departure - secondary star of the show for three series. This is the first time she's popped up in a McDermid novel, and the result was puzzling. McDermid presents Fielding as the novel's secondary antagonist, second to only the bloke brutally murdering blondes in his garage. She's petty, officious, short-sighted and self-serving. Everyone who comes into contact with her actively dislikes her, and I don't understand the motivation in presenting her this way. I even went back and re-watched her first WitB episode to see if she started out that way and subsequent character growth had caused me to forget, but... not really. There are shades of her novel characterisation there - initially abrasive, by-the-book and resistant to Tony's skills - but within literal seconds of meeting him, she's also smiling at his foibles, divulging details of the case and letting him listen in on an interview. And by the end, she seeks out and is grateful for his help. I don't know if this is the start of a longer arc for her in the books, but I was a bit bewildered by her depiction.
On the whole, I found a lot of things to enjoy here. The writing was sharp as ever - in less skilled hands, Tony's pining and Carol's residual anger might have veered into melodrama, but most assuredly didn't. I enjoyed the interactions between Paula and Tony, even (maybe especially) the painful moment he accidentally called her Carol. I loved the humour that still lurked beneath the surface despite the circumstances ('He grabbed one of the sturdy reusable carrier bags that Carol - ouch, no, let her go, you can't get sentimental over a bloody carrier bag'). I particularly think keeping Carol and Tony apart for three quarters of the novel was a positive move, building towards their eventual meeting and allowing their interactions to be less raw and fraught than where The Retribution left them. Ultimately, book seven left me worried about where this series was going. Book eight has me pleasantly hopeful for the next installment.
(If there is one truly horrifying event in this novel, it's Carol leaving behind her beloved cat Nelson and getting a dog. Far more dreadful than all the murders combined, clearly.)(less)
As far as I'm concerned, Jeffery Deaver is the master of plot twists. His short story collections Twisted and More Twisted are packed with brilliantly...moreAs far as I'm concerned, Jeffery Deaver is the master of plot twists. His short story collections Twisted and More Twisted are packed with brilliantly crafted gems, and his on-going Lincoln Rhyme series has more stings in the tale than a rattlesnake. So I was excited to see what he'd do with The October List, a thriller told quite literally backwards. We open on chapter 36, with a frantic mother awaiting news of her kidnapped daughter. The door opens, revealing not her rescuers but the kidnapper himself, wielding a gun and a deranged grin. How did it come to this? We're about to find out, in reverse.
Although it takes a long time for the full picture to become clear (the game changes constantly, and the kaleidoscope doesn't come to rest as a fully-formed image until you've read all the way through to chapter one), the pace is never anything less than frenetic. I finished the book in around a day, and kept reading for several hours after I really should have been sleeping (when you physically can't hold the book open in bed, it's probably time to call it a night.)
Does the gimmick produce satisfying results? Yes and... hmm. The format does lend itself to some difficulties. You know the piece of proofreading advice, that if you read a document backwards you're more likely to catch mistakes? While there aren't mistakes here as such (ultimately, everything ties together beautifully), I think the problem with starting from a place of complete bewilderment is that I never really fully trusted anyone, nor took any information at face value. When the revelations come, they're more of the 'ah, that makes sense of that!' variety than the sudden sharp shock of being completely surprised.
When working with a regular chronology, Deaver is fully adept at misdirection and sleight of hand, techniques that I think this format fundamentally makes more difficult. I'm definitely not saying I guessed the resolution in advance, but I also wouldn't say I was miles from the ballpark. There are times Deaver's caught me from another continent entirely, so this wasn't necessarily in the same league.
That said, I think this will definitely bear a repeat reading, perhaps in reverse this time, to really catch all the subtle clues laid throughout. It's probably only a shade over half the length of most of his other books, so it wouldn't surprise me if this was the intention. I've quickly re-read the first (last?) chapter, and the additional depth and nuance once you know what's really going on is brilliant. As is the contents list at the back - I actually laughed out loud at how clever he'd been in places with the chapter illustrations.
Overall, while I wasn't completely blown away by The October List, I do think Deaver's writing here is very, very clever, and I'm looking forward to going through it again when it's not quite so fresh. For readers unfamiliar with JD, it does take a while to get in to - it was probably sixty pages or so before I stopped being completely bewildered, and maybe as much as another hundred before I was really rolling along - because of course, telling a story backwards does run the risk of making it choppy, disjointed and frustrating. My advice would be just to trust that he knows full-well what he's doing and that it will all pay off eventually. And enjoy!(less)
I read this for my book group, and found it a fairly enjoyable - if not especially well crafted - read. Despite having been into crime fiction for eon...moreI read this for my book group, and found it a fairly enjoyable - if not especially well crafted - read. Despite having been into crime fiction for eons, I'd never read a PD James before. She's always come well recommended (and is apparently a delight to talk to!) but for some reason her books have never appealed enough to coax me to pick one up. On the whole, Death Comes to Pemberley hasn't made me want to rush out and read more of hers, but I probably wouldn't judge her straight crime fiction on the basis of it either.
This was definitely a cosy enough read, and the scene setting was spot-on - atmospheric and very evocative of the Pemberley estate. The core plot had a decent enough hook: Six years after the wedding of Darcy and Elizabeth, Pemberley is preparing for the annual ball, when Lydia Wickham appears unexpectedly out of the dark, stormy night, screaming that her husband has been murdered. Drama!
It's been a couple of years since I read Pride and Prejudice so I can't speak for how well she captured the characters - but on the whole, it did rather feel as though they could have been anyone, with the names Darcy and Elizabeth slotted in. The only character that really, truly, rang 100% faithful to Austen was the odious Mr. Collins ("He began by stating that he could find no words to express his shock and abhorrence, and then proceeded to find a great number, few of them appropriate and none of them helpful. ...He went on to prophecy a catalogue of disasters for the afflicted family ranging from the worst - Lady Catherine's displeasure and their permanent banishment from Rosings - descending to public ignominy, bankruptcy and death.") Ha. Wonderful.
My main issue with the book is that the weight of it felt off. We go from the discovery of a body, to an arrest, inquest and trial - and when the thing feels all but over, there comes another sixty pages of info-dumped exposition explaining everyone's actions and motives in great detail, delivered essentially in a series of incredibly long monologues. There is enough in the way of clues early on that readers can probably have a good guess at how the thing really went down, but this great wave of revelation felt excessive and, honestly, a bit fatiguing to wade through. It took me rather by surprise, as I'd have assumed that as a crime fiction legend, James would have her plotting down pat.
On the whole though, it proved pleasant enough (although there are some dreadfully on the nose passages! "If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?" Goodness me.) If you like both P&P and crime fiction, by all means give it a go - just don't expect to be overwhelmed by the plot.(less)