Category Archives: Val McDermid

Novel Insights’ Top 12 Books – 2011

I am savouring my last day off work today and feeling a little bit smug to be sat indoors out of the rain with nothing more taxing to do than mull over my favourite books of the past year. Actually, I say it’s not taxing but I started by trying to pick five books, then changed it to ten, and then bumped it up to twelve – whoops! Well that is one for every month – a perfectly good excuse in my opinion. Here they are:

How To Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

5 stars 5/5

“…challenges all the stupid things that women are told (and tell themselves) with a big bucketful of humour…” Read full review.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

5 stars 5/5

“…an important book and one that I think is up there with some of the best dystopian novels.” Read full review.

Never Let Me Go

In Love & Trouble, by Alice Walker

5 stars 5/5

“…each time I picked up Alice Walker’s collection of short stories, I felt as if time was suspended and I was transported completely to heat of the Southern America… The richness and vitality of Walker’s writing makes this book an utter pleasure to read.” Read full review.

Through the Wall, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

5 stars 5/5

“The stories sound barmy, and there is a heavy dose of the surreal, but at their heart Petrushevskaya’s tales  are real human experiences of grief, love and loss.” Read full review.

Through the Wall, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Purls of Wisdom, by Jenny Lord

5 stars 5/5

“…a book that I know I will refer to time and time again. I love the informal writing style because it feels just as if a friend is teaching you…” (AKA the book to blame for my knitting obsession in 2011!) Read full review.

Purls of Wisdom: The Book of Knitting

Mr Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt

4.5 stars4.5/5

“I struggle to think of many other books that convey what is a very serious message with so much originality and seemingly so effortlessly.” Read full review.

Mary Anne, by Daphne du Maurier

4.5 stars4.5/5

“…a book, packed with with witty lines, and a richly described period setting which creates the backdrop for the story of a fascinating protagonist based on du Maurier’s own great-great-grandmother.” Read full review.

The Mermaids Singing, by Val McDermid

4.5 stars4.5/5

“I think that I might have found a new favourite crime writer to add to my list!” Read full review.

The Mermaids Singing

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

4 stars4/5

“Of course, this is a sad book to read, but also so beautifully and eloquently written… In an odd way, I believe that this little book could be comforting at a time of loss, if only because of how openly the author shares his experience.” Read full review.

Fateless, by Imre Kertész

4 stars4/5

“… a novel that will stay with me, because it is unique in the way that it addresses the experience of concentration camps. The writing is deceptively simple, and peppered with imaginative ideas…” Read full review.

Fateless, by Imre Kertesz

Journey by Moonlight, by Antal Szerb

4 stars4/5

“…has the qualities that I associate with a real classic… A rich and many-layered story.” Read full review.

Before I go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson

4.5 stars4.5/5

“…smartly plotted, written compellingly and the premise is well-executed.” Read full review.

Before I go to Sleep

A retrospective look at Novel Insights tells me that in 2011 I read a total of 43 books which is a whole 30% lower than last year’s count of 62. I don’t get too hung up about the number of books that I read because I don’t like to over-organise or analyse the things I do for pleasure and for this reason I don’t really make reading resolutions.

That said, I do think that my reading and blogging can be seen as a bit of a barometer of how I’m feeling. While sometimes I read less because I’ve been occupied with nice, fun stuff (including quite a lot of knitting this year!) I have felt quite busy over the past few months and it is one of my resolutions to find a better balance between work and my leisure time.

Well that’s my little bit of naval-gazing over and done with! How was your 2011? Do you have any reading resolutions? What books really stood out for you this year?

The Mermaids Singing, by Val McDermid

4.5 stars4.5/5

In anticipation of seeing Val McDermid at this month’s Bookmarked literary salon, I decided to read one of her early books. Simon recommended The Mermaids Singing, the first book in which she introduces Tony Hill, now the central protagonist in the Wire in the Blood TV series based on her books.

The Mermaids Singing

Harper Press, 2010 reissue paperback edition, 400 pages - personal library

The Mermaids Singing is set in the fictional Northern town of Bradfield. When the novel opens there have been two murders and a third is about to take place. Tony Hill, a psychological profiler has been asked to help with the case, much to the disdain of some of the team members who think psychological profiling is all a bit of mumbo-jumbo. Tony confirms that the murders – young men who have been horrifically tortured and dumped in areas of the city frequented by gay men – are likely to be the work of a serial killer and works alongside the smart female officer Carole Jordan to uncover the perpetrator.

Right from the start of the novel the reader is let into the mind of the killer who keeps a recorded diary. Narcissistic and with a cold logic, the killer’s voice reveals the reasoning behind the murders, just a few steps behind the real-time events that are taking place in the police investigation. The police team is a mix of the archetypal bent copper and some key characters, notably Carole Jordan who shines as being dedicated and smart. Tony Hill has a complex mind and plenty of personal hang-ups that make him a fascinating character. Perhaps not surprisingly because of the nature of his job, he often has to go to dark places in his mind, and at times he is incredibly strong, at others completely vulnerable. He finds a good partner to work with in Carole who despite being a young, attractive woman hasn’t had a great deal of success with men. I really liked the interaction between Tony and Carole and the way that they complemented each other in the way they worked through the case.

The Mermaids Singing is definitely one of the more gruesome crime novels that I’ve read because of the sheer sadistic nature of the murders how carefully planned they were, and the twisted logic behind why the killer believes the victims deserved to die. Also, something about the way that the men are abducted – part of normal life one day, and in a living hell the next – really got under my skin. The novel had a brilliant pace, revealing just enough in each chapter to keep you hooked until the end.

The Mermaids Singing was originally published in 1995 but doesn’t feel dated apart from some of the references to technology and even then it seems just like a snapshot of that time. It’s a really original story, and Tony Hill is brilliant. I’m definitely looking forward to reading of the series to find out how Tony’s character is developed in subsequent books. I think that I might have found a new favourite crime writer to add to my list!