Cross and Burn
by Val McDermid (Little, Brown, 2013)
Cross and Burn is book number eight in the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, though this was as much of a Paula McIntyre novel. The premise is your usual serial-killer formula: one sad mysogynistic excuse for a human being bumping off women because they don’t measure up to his scale of perfection. Unfortunately, the edges are getting somewhat worn on this plot.
The repercussions of the previous book, Retribution, are felt in Cross and Burn. Any reader who has read it will know that anything else would be impossible; others are forewarned of major spoilers, and for best results, this book should be put aside and Retribution read first. The relationship between Carol and Tony has been strained yet again—oh, stop rolling your eyes—and this time it is serious. Tony has retreated to living like a hermit on a narrowboat, while Carol has resigned from the police and is undertaking serious DIY work on refurbishing her current living quarters, having fallen off the radar of her former colleagues. Needless to say, the Bradfield Metropolitan Police’s Major Incident Team has been disbanded too.
The one good thing in that is former Detective Constable Paula McIntyre has taken the time to pass her sergeant’s exam and is now a DS, posted to the team of Detective Inspector Alex Fielding. They tackle the murder of a woman found brutally beaten, while another of a similar description is missing. So, of course, a mad man is on the loose, going after women who, by all accounts, look like Carol Jordan. And then, when a breakthrough comes in the case, fingers are pointed at an unlikely and unbelievable suspect. DS McIntyre is certain that the investigation has taken a wrong turn, but her boss begs to differ. Thus, if Paula doesn’t produce another viable suspect, a ghastly miscarriage of justice is on the cards. And if anyone can crack this case, her name is Carol Jordan. Of that Paula is certain.
It’s not difficult to work out who the killer is, and even though I kept on hoping that I was wrong and that McDermid had successfully wrong-footed me (as a Guardian quote on the back cover says), it was slightly disappointing to find that it was not so. While we get some tantalizing portions of the story from the killer’s point of view, there was a sense of having read it all before, that hatred of women, that sense of entitlement, that complete assurance that they were being completely reasonable. Does this come out of reading too many crime novels or is it the beginnings of stagnation? It is difficult to go for the latter since McDermid is one of my favourite crime writers, but this much is true that this series either needs to end or find a new direction.
The actual ‘detecting’ was not that much fun either. All that there was to know about the killer, we find out from the chapters that are written from his perspective—his messed-up childhood, et al. In this, it seemed to me, the book had a major flaw—so much showing and so little telling. One of the key hooks of the story is the victims’ resemblance to Carol Jordan. However, that ends up a damp squib as well. Speaking of police work, if you’ve seen the TV series, you might recognize the character of DI Fielding, ably played by the fantastic Simone Lahbib, which Val McDermid has pinched with permission for this book. However, the capable, likeable Fielding of the TV series is a completely different character here, a self-important paper-pusher. What is more annoying is that Paula keeps comparing her to Carol Jordan, the ultimate bee’s knees, and clearly without her the British police service might as well shut shop.
As for the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan relationship, well, that plot had been lost many books back and continues to flounder. Despite all this moaning, Cross and Burn keeps the pages turning, and with a bit of suspension of disbelief can be quite an enjoyable read. A somewhat disappointing result from a fantastic author, but here’s hoping the next one will pick up the slack.
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