by Sharon Tucker
All the motives for murder are covered by four Ls: Love, Lust, Lucre, and Loathing.”
It was the 80s. If you were there, you remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, big hair, Laura Ashley prints, Reagan, peg trousers, Chernobyl, the first personal computers, Thatcher, and the rise of technology. It was all this and the debut of Val McDermid’s Lindsay Graham novels, that intrepid Scottish reporter turned detective, who helped us respect the reality of journalists writing the same story differently for different audiences, different papers. I read these books and realized that I had more insight into how newspaper writers, as well as prosecutors and defense lawyers, could bear to associate with each other; it has to do with mindset, altruism in chopping through ambiguity and honesty about the unlovely in us, then moving on to the next day’s work. We first met freelance reporter Lindsay Graham in Report for Murder (1987), worked with her through a career crisis in Common Murder (1989), and saw her come into her own as a professional detective in Final Edition (1991).
None of us can describe jobbing tabloid journalist Lindsay Graham and the setup of Report for Murder as succinctly as does McDermid herself in her first paragraph:
“How could a cynical socialist lesbian feminist journalist be on her way to spend a weekend in a girls’ public school?”
Graham is there for love and friendship’s sake, of course. She has come down from Glasgow to write an article about the upcoming Derbyshire House Girls’ School fundraiser that stars one of its most illustrious alums, Lorna Smith-Couper, a renowned cellist, all for Oxford friend Paddy Callaghan. How pleasant that the article will pay well, too. Among the first of many surprises in the novel is that Lorna Smith-Couper is so worthy of universal dislike. Another is that she has thus far avoided being murdered. Someone soon dies, however, an innocent takes the blame and one wonders how our protagonist can possibly escape death herself as the novel moves toward its end. (If you were guessing Lucre is the prime motive for the murder, you would be warm.)
Common Murder finds Graham roughing it in the midst of a women’s peace camp protesting outside an American missile base in the English countryside. Local residents have taken great exception to the women’s presence and one very vocal resident has accused one of the women of assault. As fate would have it, the accused is a former lover of Graham’s. As she examines the inciting incidents and the persons involved, Graham is as surprised as everyone else is when the most unpleasant local around is murdered, and it is hardly surprising that one of the peace camp women is suspected and arrested. Think “Loathing” and you still may not guess who the perpetrator turns out to be nor the turn events take concerning Graham as the novel comes to its end.
Final Edition’s murder is a fait accompli as we begin, and our Graham is more at loose ends than usual, having been in Venice for months as a direct result of the consequences that ended the previous novel. When she does come back to Glasgow, she finds her romantic circumstances have changed, she has no job at all and one of her long-time friends is serving time for having murdered another of her long-time friends because of a plethora of circumstantial evidence. An intriguing wrinkle in the investigation pushes Graham in a stunning direction that makes the worst kind of sense, and I still feel guilty that I so wanted it not to be true. Alas it was. Unlovely. Unvarnished. Loathsome. Very believable and totally McDermid.
I do not think one can find better crime writing than Val McDermid’s. Her plots are intriguingly convoluted, and her characters infuriate while engendering the reader’s respect. As an added bonus, many of her characters are so deeply Scottish that I never fail to come away from reading her with new insight into that national character whose history with their southern neighbors, the British, is checkered, to say the very least. True, she faces criticism for excessive violence, especially in her Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, and I would be the first to agree that the places she takes the reader are very dark indeed. However, I have found nothing gratuitous in what she has written that I have read, and I am grateful that she is so very prolific because I relish being changed by what I read. Read her. Start with the Lindsay Graham books if you are squeamish and build up a tolerance for the truth as it is and not as we would have it. She is far from cozy, but she is honest, intelligent, and she does not look away. We need her help to not look away either.
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Thanks for the review. Author sounds fascinating. Thanks for the chance to win! faithdcreech at gmail dot com