So I’m finally being brave and writing up my review for The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid. I listened to the audiobook practically a year ago, but if you’ve ever read the book then you know it’s not the kind of story that drops from your memory all that quickly and to be honest, as the first book in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, it is one which keeps coming back to mind the more I catch up on all that I have missed. I’ll share my review in a moment, but in the meantime, in case you aren’t aware, here is what the book is all about.
The Official Book Blurb
You always remember the first time. Isn’t that what they say about sex? How much more true it is of murder…
Up till now, the only serial killers Tony Hill had encountered were safely behind bars. This one’s different – this one’s on the loose.
Four men have been found mutilated and tortured. As fear grips the city, the police turn to clinical psychologist Tony Hill for a profile of the killer. But soon Tony becomes the unsuspecting target in a battle of wits and wills where he has to use every ounce of his professional nerve to survive.
A tense, beautifully written psychological thriller, The Mermaids Singing explores the tormented mind of a serial killer unlike any the world of fiction has ever seen.
So. I’ll be honest. When I purchased this book, and the audio, I had literally no idea what I was letting myself in for. I’m a bit hit and miss when it comes to watching TV, even more so in the post Uni working all the hours god sends days of my twenties, so the associated TV series, Wire In The Blood, kind of passed me by, and after a very long reading break, I’d also missed out on most of the brilliant writers who came out of the nineties and noughties. Heck, even the first half of the teenies is a literary blur. But I had a two hour drive to entertain myself on returning from CrimeFest last May so it seemed as good a time as any to start my literary catch-up by listening to The Mermaids Singing.
Now – a word to the wise. When you are listening to an audio book in your car, think carefully about who you are giving a lift to and at which point they may join the story. It led to some very strange looks from my sister when she got into the car to be greeted by a very, how shall I put this, anatomically explicit description during one point of the narrative. And this is not a book for the faint hearted as the violence committed is very brutal and the descriptions quite graphic at times. It lead to quite a few raised eyebrow moments and sideways glances from big Sis, that’s for sure.
When a book opens with someone talking gleefully about implements of torture and the effect they have on them, shall we say physically, then you know that this is not your common or garden police procedural. There is no earthly way you can mistake this as a cosy crime. From the discovery of the first victim to the quickly escalating level of brutality and violence, it is going to take a very strong character and a very cunning mind to unearth the killer’s motives and to stop them.
And this is exactly what you get in Hill and Jordan. Carol Jordan is the strong character – the cop with the total recall and a high level of intelligence which is matched only by Dr Tony Hill, the psychologist the police call in to help solve these heinous crimes. Hill is clinical, precise and very astute. He and Carol bounce off each other and challenge each other in their assumptions, making for a formidable pairing. There is an underlying chemistry between them, a definite attraction, but Hill has too many demons to be able to act upon it and this leads to a certain tension between the two which only adds to the appeal of the characters and, ultimately, the book and series as whole.
The setting of the book, Bradfield, is in itself so grim that it adds to the seediness and darkness of the story. There is almost an edge to the city, very working class, subject to prejudices heightened by a seeming lack of tolerance of anything slightly different. The killer is twisted, their logic skewed by years of denying their true selves. They are clever beyond the police’s imagination, skilled in what was back then, very new tech in the computer world. It makes me smile sometimes to look back on a book written in the 90s and realise how far we have come with technology as things we take for granted now, that even a computer novice takes for granted, was still relatively unknown even that short leap in history ago.
In the book, Val McDermid’s knowledge of and passion for forensics really shines through. There is so much detail, such precision, that you feel a part of every step of the investigation. There is also such detail in the execution of the pain and torture that you will find yourself wincing. Even the final showdown between Tony and the Killer, although feeling inevitable throughout, will have you on the edge of your seat and holding your breath in anticipation (two not particularly easy things to do while driving a car so that might be a good point for a comfort break). This is a very sensory novel in as much as it is so vivid that you feel everything; every bit of anguish, every emotion.
If you like your crime thrillers with a very dark edge then this is absolutely the book for you. Just… if you go for the audio, be careful who you share it with 😉
A dark and torturous 5 stars.
The Mermaid’s Singing is available to purchase from the following retailers: