How the Dead Speak (Tony Hill and Carol Jordan #11), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Val McDermid, and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always a fan of Val McDermid’s work, I was pleased to be able to read this eleventh novel in the Tony Hill-Carol Jordan series, which packs a punch and keeps the reader on their toes. After the fallout of a previous case, Tony Hill finds himself behind bars for manslaughter. That may seem a hindrance, but Hill is doing all he can to work with his fellow inmates to help make their lives easier, while ensuring protection of his own. On the outside, Carol Hill has retired from active police duty as she pieces things together. When Carol is approached by a local Innocence Project and asked to help consult on a case, her curiosity is piqued. A number of male prostitutes have gone missing over a span of time, but their bodies have never turned up. Presumed murdered, the prosecution turned their eyes on one man as the killer. Convicted by a majority of his jury, he now sits in jail, though professes his innocence. Carol Jordan uses her long history as a cop to explore the case in hopes of finding a trail left to go cold. At the same time, Carol Jordan’s former Regional Major Incident Team (REMIT) has been called to investigate an odd crime of their own. While razing the land of a former convent and girls’ school, a number of children’s bodies are found buried in the garden. All eyes turn to those who run the school, which appears to have been anything but a lovely educational establishment when it was open. The REMIT begins their investigation and seeks to find something on which they can build a case. While the nuns, groundskeepers, and local priest are anything but forthcoming, there is something that does not add up. When a second set of bodies turns up, things take an interesting turn and the investigation gathers momentum. Who left these bodies and what is the gruesome story behind it all? Another winner in the Hill-Jordan series, which will appeal to those who have enjoyed the previous novels, particularly McDermid’s cliffhanger ending. Recommended to those who like a police procedural with a few twists tossed in.

While I know this series has divided fans over the years, I find myself in the group that loves them. There have been actions taken by Val McDermid hat may leave some scratching their heads, but the meatier parts of the story come out and keep the reader curious, if not completely enthralled. The Tony Hill/Carol Jordan storylines are secondary in this piece, though there is some great character development, however minor at times. It is the characters who normally serve a secondary role that come to the forefront here, weaving together an impactful mystery that needs solving. The premise is strong, though the cliché of the Catholic Church left me rolling my eyes just a bit. Still, there is quite the mystery and two cases soon find a common thread, which ties things together nicely. McDermid does well to write her parallel plots effectively and keeps the reader wondering when the other shoe may drop. I cannot say that it was the most stellar writing, but the narrative offered up strong themes and kept me wondering until the very end. With a mix of short and longer chapters, the reader can sometimes be enticed to read a little more, then locked into the investigation for more detailed aspects. I am eager to see where things go with this series, particularly with how things ended, a tantalizing cliffhanger of sorts.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for another wonderful novel in the series. I can only hope you have more ideas brewing, as they always keep me guessing.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Insidious Intent (Tony Hill and Carol Jordan Thriller #10), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

Returning with another high-intensity novel in the Hill and Jordan series, Val McDermid shows why she has been given so much praise for her mystery writing. When a vehicle is found engulfed in flames along the side of the road, questions mount. It is only when fire crews extinguish the blaze that they discover a charred body, later identified as Kathryn McCormick. Forensic examination discovers that Kathryn was likely strangled before being placed in the vehicle and the fire was used to destroy anything that might help. A call to REMIT (the Regional Major Investigation Team) means that the locals are taking no chances. REMIT is a group that has been pulled together by DCI Carol Jordan, a small and very select group that is sure to leave those peering in from outside highly jealous. However, Jordan is also trying to get her life back together after some less than legal maneuvers kept her out of jail, but also allowed some other offenders to slip through the cracks. When Jordan and the team seek to tease out some information about the killer, they discover all forensics at the scene have been destroyed by water and there are very few leads. However, refusing to lay down and give up, Jordan pushes to use CCTV footage and the like to find this killer. When another body is discovered in a vehicle, the team is thankful that the blaze was left to burn itself out, turning the scene into a forensic jackpot. The more REMIT can find, the better the killer’s profile, which is where Tony Hill finds his expertise useful. Hill is able to extrapolate and soon discovers that there may be a wedding crasher killer, preying on vulnerable women. Away from the action, DS Paula McIntyre has come to see that her ‘adopted’ son, Torin, is beginning to exhibit highly confusing behaviour. Not sure if this is tied to his mother’s recent death, DS McIntyre uses Tony Hill’s expertise to crack things open, only to discover another disturbing set of circumstances. With a killer on the loose and scores of weddings all over the place, REMIT cannot be sure of where to turn next, or what might be fuelling these murders. DCI Jordan had best regain her focus, or step aside, as all eyes are watching, some ready to pounce on REMIT failure. A wonderfully plotted piece that seeks to stir up emotion in the reader throughout the experience. McDermid and series fans will bask in the strength of this piece, which is sure to garner new fans, though I recommend they start at the beginning of this impactful collection.

McDermid never falters when she sits down and dedicates herself to a series. The Hill-Jordan collection is full of great aspects of crime, character growth, and personal struggles, which leaves the reader fully committed, but always wanting a little more. Carol Jordan receives a great deal of the focus in this novel, tackling some of her guilt related to having her drunk driving charge swept under the rug, but also having to come to terms with the pressure of REMIT and that many want it to die a painful death. McDermid allows this thread to float around through the narrative, including an angle of journalistic integrity when someone gets ahold of the previously buried information. While she and Hill remain committed to not committing, Tony is able to remain on the periphery and do what he does best, climb into the minds of killers and those who need a psychological analysis. The banter between these two and the other strong, secondary characters permits McDermid to forge ahead with a strong crime thriller. The story itself has some interesting aspects, as the reader is given full view of the killer and their attempts to lure vulnerable women at weddings. Building up their confidence and preparing the foundation for a wonderful relationship before killing them, symbolic of a larger issue at hand. McDermid weaves the story around the killer and REMIT, creating a wonderful cat and mouse game, but not turning it into anything too laborious. Peppering the narrative with that secondary criminal situation, involving Torin, keeps the reader on their toes and sharp-minded throughout. The delivery is strong and, as I have always come to find with McDermid, leaves little time to rest. There is always something going on and the reader cannot tune out for a chapter or three, for fear of missing essential information. Without getting specific, the ending leaves fans begging for another instalment, as loose threads dangle. This series has it all, without dragging things out for 500+ pages, just to get to the end.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for all your hard work. I find that a few of your series with which I have familiarised myself remain strong and full of forensic spark. Keep it up and your fan base will grow exponentially.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons