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One of the things that makes Val McDermid one of the best mystery writers on the planet—in the company of greats like Ruth Rendell and P.D. James—is how seamlessly she weaves current issues into her novels.
McDermid has written more than 20 mysteries—all meaty, multi-layered 500-page books that like those of her fellow Brits (McDermid is Scottish, but lives in England), Rendell and James meld the formulaic mystery with the serious literary novel.
One is always tempted to use that over-used phrase “page-turner,” but McDermid’s novels are so much more than page-turners.
One lingers over each line because the prose is so rich and full. The opening two pages, a prologue of sorts, of her latest Tony Hill novel, Fever of the Bone (Harper) are so dramatic, so engrossing that they need to be read more than once before one can move on into the novel itself.
And they set the pace, which is both languid, like the slow bleed of a puncture wound, and pulsing, like a slit carotid.
McDermid gets zeitgeist. In Fever of the Bone, she incorporates the 21st century drama of the Internet into a compelling and at times painful tale of torture, perversion and, of course, murder. This is a thriller in the truest sense of the term.
Internet bullying is a growing and fiendish trend; many of us have been its victims. The anonymity of online exchanges allows bullies free-range that they don’t have in non-virtual life. It’s hit-and-run driving with no consequences.
In addition, the protective cocoon of the Internet draws the insecure, the shy, the lonely, the shut-in and the perilously damaged.
Virtual life becomes real life for many. It’s the perfect place to hunt victims. That is where McDermid begins. And so does her killer.
Fever of the Bone uses RigMarole (a U.K. Facebook-type social networking site) as its pivot. Dr. Tony Hill, her long-time detective (he’s a clinical psychologist and criminal profiler) and his cohort, Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan, are a superb duo.
Hill is often escaping something personally ghastly and Jordan is often proving herself. It’s a match made in mystery heaven. And there’s something there between them that’s indecipherable, but very, very compelling.
Enter the crime: The horrific murder of a teenager, Jennifer Maidment, is too grisly by half. And yet, it is just the beginning of a spree—a melding of the Internet and perversity and the grooming of innocents who think they are so much more because the Internet makes kids feel like grownups and lets grownups pretend to be kids.
Jennifer wasn’t walking alone on an open road in the dead of night or cutting through a wood or waiting on a lonely tube platform; Jennifer was a girl whose whole life was RigMarole.
What, or who, lured her to her untimely and gruesome death? When another teen gets murdered and mutilated—also a RigMarole denizen—Hill realizes that a serial killer is at work. But as is the case with the Internet, the perpetrator can disappear with the same disturbing ease as he came into the lives of his victims, which makes the case as difficult as it is harrowing.
McDermid is terrific with adding new plot devices to expand a genre that could, in less capable hands, become tired. Here, she inserts a new chief constable, James Blake, to make Jordan’s life a little more hellish. Blake looks askance at the contributions of Hill and considers his consulting fee the perfect place for a budget cut.
Hill goes off to Worcester, where he takes on the Maidment murder, and Jordan gets involved in another case in Bradfield; the two soon collide when the murders escalate, because serial killers tend to expand their repertoire with each successive murder.
Fever of the Bone delves into the dark recesses of what the Internet has to offer the lost and lonely. McDermid’s Internet-obsessed teens have become victims in more than one way.
McDermid’s mysteries never disappoint. Fever of the Bone is incredibly gruesome; McDermid doesn’t shy away from the true horror of murder and the passion and perversity that often lead to it.
This is a satisfying mystery as well as a well-written and deeply moving and thought-provoking literary novel—one of McDermid’s best.