McDermid, Val - 'Beneath the Bleeding'
Pick up a book by Val McDermid and you know you are in for an exciting, tense page-turner. BENEATH THE BLEEDING, one of the Tony Hill series, certainly delivers on this score. Tony is a psychological profiler, who collaborates with the Bradfield Major Incident Team run by DCI Carol Jordan. Not only do Tony and Carol have a longstanding "will they, won't they?" relationship, but Carol is now Tony's tenant, exacerbating their uncertainties and insecurities.
In the inevitable scene-setting introductory chapter, Tony is on duty at a mental hospital when a patient goes berserk, eventually being subdued but at a cost to Tony's knee, which is shattered by an axe. Tony's subsequent hospital stay allows us not only to meet his awful mother (and hence to learn more than before about the unusual character of this man), but to have a first-hand account of the horrible death of the local football hero, Robbie Bishop.
Carol and her team are assigned to the case, at which point regular readers will recognise the pattern: everyone goes off and does their own thing in competition with each other, not telling each other what they have found in the hope of being the one to make the crucial breakthrough. This was very much the theme of the previous book in the series, THE TORMENT OF OTHERS, and you'd think that after what happened in that, the team members would have learnt their lesson. Not so. Almost the worst offender is Tony himself, who although supposedly immobile after his knee operation, is off with Paula, one of the team members, following up a lead that Carol had dismissed as unlikely and challenging the senior woman's authority.
The excitement builds up as the team attempt to home in on the killer, who unimaginatively changes identity, but not initials, between victims. This is nothing, however, compared with the other main plot strand: a planned attack on the football stadium during the match played in honour of the dead soccer star. Carol's boss calls in Counter Terrorism Command to investigate, much to Carol's disgust as she wants her team to follow through the attack as well as the murder case. More turf wars ensue, although the computer experts in both teams are happy to swap technical knowledge. Written before the debacle in which the HM Customs and Revenue lost computer disks containing bank details of 25 million people in the UK, there is a prescient paragraph in the book about Gerry and Stacey, the computer "geeks" on the two teams: "in exchange for a back door into a confidential social security database, he'd given her HM Customs and Revenue, probably the only major government access she didn't have". Fiction meets fact quite chillingly!
The two investigations continue. Witnesses are interviewed, characters rub each other up the wrong way, and the tension mounts - in all these respects this author is utterly assured. Unfortunately, the denouement in each of the cases reveals a rather ludicrous motivation - a problem with previous titles by this author. And although Tony and Carol are strongly characterised and their interactions zing, the minor characters are less convincing.
The Tony Hill books have been made into a successful TV series, and one does get the feeling that this book has been tailored for the purpose. Even so, the pages flash by as the suspense mounts - despite the slightly mass-produced feel to the book, it is certainly a thrilling read.
Maxine Clarke, England