Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid

Hardcover, 383 pages Published December 1st 2015 by Atlantic Monthly Press (first published 2015)

This ninth novel in the Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series written by Scottish mystery writer Val McDermid brings us a serial killer who preys on opinionated women who take principled stances embodying feminist ideals, e.g., outspoken against domestic violence, deadbeat dads, the living and work arrangements of serial rapists. The police at first dismiss the vituperative online trolls who respond to these womens' blogposts—"it is only words"--until some of those outspoken women end up dead.

Hill and Jordan are long-time McDermid subjects, and the stars of a BBC TV series called The Wire in the Blood, a popular six-season (2002-2008) police procedural starring Robson Green as Tony Hill and Hermione Norris as Carol Jordan. Every two years since the TV series finished, McDermid published another Hill & Jordan mystery. In all that time, Jordan had left the police force and has started drinking far too much far too often. This story began with Jordan refitting an old barn on the outskirts of Bradfield, Yorkshire to live in.

McDermid’s character of Tony Hill always seemed to me far less autistic than Robson Green’s interpretation. Hill does play computer games to give his subconscious time to develop ideas, and he does have a tendency to insert himself into Carol Jordan’s orbit. In this story, Hill intervenes in Jordan’s drinking habit, forcing her to recognize her dependency.

While Jordan is drying out, Hill suggests she think over a problem that so far has not been identified by anyone else as a problem: those outspoken women were dying, presumably at their own hand, in the manner of famous feminists who had committed suicide in the past. Each of the suicides even had pages of books written by the different women they were emulating…so many women, so many role models, different deaths but all with the same idea. It started out as a time-consuming mental activity to keep her from drinking and then links started to appear…

Insomuch as McDermid's crime series also employ elements of police procedurals, this is a delightful look at the top cops who have a meeting early in the action. They sound so much like a group of Shakespeare’s hags around a black, round-bellied pot hanging over a campfire one can practically hear the “Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble” refrain. The old white men discuss offering Jordan her own shop under their aegis but outside the shop. The team she ultimately assembles has some terrific, familiar characters.

One of those characters, a computer whiz from an immigrant family, is sleeping with a handsome but shallow fellow officer who is always seeking the best path to his own personal aggrandizement. When the computer whiz discovers her main squeeze is leaking information from her investigation, she takes the sweetest revenge—I laughed aloud to hear it. I’m not going to tell you what it is, but believe me, you won’t want to miss it, and you wouldn’t want it to happen to you.

McDermid is so smooth and natural in her writing by now in her Gold Dagger Award-winning career that she makes churning out these psychologically dense personality profiles look easy. Scottish by birth, McDermid now splits her time each year between South Manchester and Edinburgh, where lives with her partner and her son. She began as a journalist and playwright and, inspired by American women crime writers including Sara Paretsky, she developed her own crime-writing style. If you have never seen her speak, you are in for a terrific treat. She has a big personality and clearly enjoys her work on most days. Just type in “Val McDermid interview” in YouTube’s search bar and you will hear many hours of fascinating stories, mostly true.

My personal favorite in these interviews is a short one in which McDermid is interviewing Sofie Gråbøl (embedded below), star of the Danish production of The Killing, a wildly popular multi-season TV hit throughout Europe. If you haven’t yet seen it, do not mistake the American re-do of the television screenplay for the original Danish production, which was mesmerizing. McDermid mentions the sweater Gråbøl wore in the show which became a hit also, spawning an industry.

Also note that one of McDermid’s most famous books, A Place of Execution, was made into a TV mini-series, three parts of which are also available for free on YouTube. I haven’t watched it yet, but you will recognize some of your favorite actors. My favorite is Lee Ingleby, but Robson Green is there also. Enjoy!

I listened to the audio production of this book sent to me by Goodreads FirstReads, narrated by Gerard Doyle and produced by HighBridge Audio, a division of Recorded Books. I still don't understand how the title fits in, though. I never caught the reference to that. If anyone out there figures it out, please leave me a comment.

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