Tag Archives: Val McDermid

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!

Bookmarked with Val McDermid & M.J. McGrath

Last night I had the pleasure of being able to go along to the second Bookmarked Literary Salon. Hosted once a month at Waterstone’s Deansgate in the centre of Manchester by Simon of Savidge Reads and Adam Lowe, Bookmarked has already seen the likes of successful debut authors S.J. Watson (writer of the fantastic Before I Go To Sleep) and Sarah Winman (When God Was a Rabbit) aptly, at it’s er… debut event in August.

Adam and M.J. McGrath (left) and Simon and Val McDermid (right)

I was very happy to have been able to co-ordinate my trip up North for work with a stop-in to September’s event featuring two crime-writers (readers of Novel Insights will know that I love a good crime novel). Val McDermid, now amazingly on her 25th book, was a writer I had heard such good things about so I swotted up before the event by reading The Mermaid’s Singing, which is one of her very early novels. A review will be on it’s way but I will say now that I’ve been completely gripped by my first Val, and would definitely recommend to other lovers of crime fiction. She’s not for the faint hearted though! Val was also an excellent guest with a refreshingly open and down to earth way of speaking about writing. I really enjoyed hearing about her approach to crime-writing and in particular an entertaining discussion between the hosts and authors about changes in modern technology and the dangers of making the latest trend too central to a story.

Val McDermid reading from Retribution

M.J. McGrath is a journalist-turned author who first book is a murder mystery in the unusual setting of the Canadian Arctic. I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of her before the event, (for a book-blogger I’m unfortunately not always on the cutting-edge of things!) however sitting and listening to her reading of White Heat and her subsequent fascinating stories of her own experiences travelling and meeting people in icy landscapes, I was compelled to buy a copy of her novel. Simon’s review here, makes me glad that I did. I also picked up a copy of Val McDermid’s Wire in the Blood and was given the latest in her Tony Hill series – a signed copy of Retribution, by my dear bookish friend and host.

At the end of the night Simon and I even got caught up in our own little mystery helping Val hunt for her car, although I’m not sure how helpful we were trying to turn it into a sleuthing moment :).

I had an absolutely brilliant time and am hoping I can make it to future Bookmarked events. If you’re in the area and fancy popping along, keep an eye out on the site for the next date and line-up here.