Insidious Intent a reminder no one does crime like Val McDermid

The peace of the Dales is shattered by murder

I sat there like a stunned mullet. In fact, extending the simile even further, I have to admit my mouth was open as I attempted to draw oxygen back into my lungs. I felt winded as I came to the end of Insidious Intent, most recent book in the series by Val McDermid featuring Carol Jordan and Doctor Tony Hill.

I am sorry but I am unable to tell you why the book had such an effect on me – it would act as the ultimate spoiler for me to do so. I must hope you’ll read it yourself to see if your reaction is the same as mine.

Do you remember 15 years ago when the brilliant British crime series, Wire In The Blood, first hit our screens? It featured DI Alex Fielding (Christine Lahbib) and clinical psychologist Tony Hill (Robson Green).

In later series, the criminal investigation was taken over by the enigmatic DI Carol Jordan (played by Hermione Norris). The acting and production were tight and tension maintained at a level never previously achieved in TV police drama. Such was the impact of the shows, a series of books was written based on the scripts, and who better to do the writing than the already well-accomplished Val McDermid?

The common denominator through both television and book editions is a strange wee man who has the capacity to step outside himself and assume the persona of perpetrator and victim – or, sometimes, fellow investigator – in the murders that are the basis of all the stories. Tony Hill is there while ever the investigations progress, varying as necessary between minor and major influence.

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Insidious Intent tells of a multi-force investigation team, Regional Major Incident Team, ReMIT, headed by now DCI Carol Jordan. Carol has had police and personal problems over time but has been resurrected to lead them forward. She has a bete noir in the form of an investigative journalist, Penny Burgess, forever ready to blow her career apart.

The team gets a call to investigate a suspicious fire death on a narrow road in the quiet of the Dales countryside. A young woman’s body is found badly burnt in a car left in a lay-by. The fire brigade, first on the scene, make a mess of possible evidence, but the fire investigator is able to provide especially interesting detail of the accelerant used – a multi-pack of potato crisps.

Three weeks later, a second woman is found dead and then, a further three weeks on, a third. All have been incinerated in isolated spots in their own cars; all have been strangled first, their hyoid bones broken. All appear to have attended weddings on their own and then been chosen by the murderer because, although solitary, they are seeking love. Who is this callous killer, what is their motive, why such insidious intent to kill nice, everyday women …?

As ever, Val McDermid’s ability to develop characters and storyline is second to none. Her capacity to understand and to write about forensics is extraordinary, especially in making the subject understandable, and interesting, to those with no technical bent. Those who regularly read her work will understand. Those who don’t now have an opportunity in the fast-flowing Insidious Intent to find out what the rest of us are on about.

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My book of the year (in August)!

Insidious Intent, by Val McDermid, (published by Hachette Australia) is available from Dymocks. Click here for details.

Hachette Australia is a proud supporter of Starts at 60. The opinions expressed in this review, however, are the writer’s own.