by Gloria Feit
Gloria Feit reviews mystery author Val McDermid’s latest U.S. release Trick of the Dark & The Retribution, which will be released here in January 2012.
Trick of the Dark
As the book opens, Dr. Charlotte (“Charlie”) Flint finds her professional life as a forensic psychiatrist in tatters, her reputation destroyed, and awaiting a hearing by the General Medical Council to decide whether or not she can be reinstated as an expert in her field.
Magdalene (“Magda”) Newsam, a pediatric oncologist, is a 28-year-old woman whose husband was killed on their wedding night, attending the trial of her husband’s partners for his murder. One of the two hubs of this book is Magda’s mother, Corinna Newsam, who was Charlie’s tutor while an undergraduate at St. Scholastika’s College, Oxford University, which is the other point around which all else revolves. Each of the characters’ ties to Corinna and Oxford have shaped their lives to this point, as is the case also with Jay Stewart, a wildly successful businesswoman in the throes of writing her second memoir following her first bestseller – the point of view throughout the book variously that of the three younger women.
Corinna asks Charlie to investigate whether, as she suspects, Jay Stewart had something to do with her son-in-law’s death, mostly due to the fact that Jay is now romantically involved with Magda. Seeking redemption, Charlie agrees. As the solution drew near, the feeling that I knew what lay ahead didn’t diminish the suspense or the intricacy of the plot. And, of course, I was completely wrong in my expectations.
Few of the characters in the book are male; few of the romantic relationships/entanglements are heterosexual, a fact noteworthy only in the prejudices thereby aroused in others which are essential to the plot. The novel, though somewhat lengthy, is an absorbing and worthy addition to Ms. McDermid’s past novels, and is recommended.
Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, New York, a few miles outside of New York City. For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications. Having always been avid mystery readers and since they’re now retired, they’re able to indulge their passion. Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US. On a more personal note: Both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.
In her twenty-fifth novel, Val McDermid brings back Jacko Vance, introduced to readers in The Wire in the Blood, and to television viewers in its wonderful series adaptation. As the book opens, this truly malevolent serial killer (whose resume includes “killer of seventeen teenage girls, murderer of a serving police officer, and a man once voted the sexiest man on British TV”) as well as an Olympic athlete and an outwardly charming and charismatic man, has served over 12 years in prison, owing mostly to the efforts of DCI Carol Jordan and psychological profiler Tony Hill. Vance has spent most of that time meticulously planning his escape, as well as his future after its successful completion: the revenge suggested by the book’s title, directed toward those who had caused his imprisonment, first among them Jordan and Hill, as well as his ex-wife whose betrayal he sees as making her equally culpable. Of course, his plan for vengeance merely begins there.
Carol Jordan, as yet unaware of what is about to happen, is dealing with a shake-up at the Bradfield Metropolitan Police, where the powers that be are disbanding her Major Incident Team. In an attempt to go out in a ‘blaze of glory,’ they are faced with finding a killer who has been killing street prostitutes in gruesome ways, and branding them with a distinctive tattoo on the wrist of each. Suddenly, Jordan’s priorities change with Vance’s escape, and its implications. Tony’s priorities, as well, must be divided between these investigations.
The relationship between Jordan and Hill has always been difficult to define, becoming more so all the time. They are not quite lovers, although they share space, and different flats, in Tony’s house. But their emotional entanglement has always been obvious to all, even if they themselves do not admit to one. That relationship, both professionally and personally, is about to be threatened now as never before.
The author goes into more of Tony’s background than I remembered having been done in the past: the emotional and psychological paths that have shaped him and caused him to work at “passing for human.” He tells a colleague, “I won’t deny that the people who do this kind of thing fascinate me. The more disturbed they are, the more I want to figure out what makes them tick.” It is his empathy and his oft-times brilliant insights that have made him so successful. But this is a challenge unlike any he has ever faced.
The pace steadily accelerates along with a sense of dread as Vance begins to carry out his plans, and the resultant page-turner is as good as anything this acclaimed author has written. Highly recommended.