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Insidious Intent


Insidious Intent

I know it’s not very independent of me, but attending a wedding without a plus-one isn’t exactly a cheery prospect (even if you catch the bouquet). In this award-winning Scottish writer’s latest thriller, single-woman guests are tormented twice over. A particularly wicked guy crashes receptions in order to chat them up, woo them --- and ultimately murder them. Val McDermid’s cops are smart, but in this villain, they’ve met their match.

INSIDIOUS INTENT is the 10th in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series. It’s helpful to know the back story of this talented but tortured pair, who have come close, over the years, to giving in to their mutual attraction, but who haven’t quite gotten there --- yet. Beware, new McDermid readers: You may feel you are arriving in the middle of one long novel. Although each book has featured different cases, the personal dramas of many of the players are ongoing. I’ve read the whole series, and it still took me a few chapters to get oriented.

Now, it’s not unusual these days for fictional crimefighters to be somewhat flawed, but Hill and Jordan really take the neurotic cake. Tony is a psychologist whose own wounds and anxieties make him capable of extraordinary empathy but not so functional in other areas; he helps the police, sometimes unofficially, by profiling evildoers. Carol, a beautiful, troubled detective chief inspector, is battling grief and alcoholism even as she is picked to head a new elite police unit in northern England, the Regional Major Incident Team (ReMIT).

"McDermid inserts a note at the book’s end asking readers and reviewers not to give the denouement away.... I will say, though, that this last twist makes an 11th Hill/Jordan novel a near certainty."

The team is tasked with the most violent, least straightforward crimes, and their first case is a humdinger. The Wedding Killer, as Tony dubs him, seems to be aware of all possible ways that forensic evidence could trap him, and he’s already racked up a couple of flawless murders. The police are stumped, frustrated, and under pressure from higher-ups to prove themselves (if they don’t solve the case pronto, the new unit will be history).

ReMIT’s members include several engaging characters familiar from previous books, as well as a couple of fresh faces. If you’re a fan, you’ll remember Paula, the feisty gay policewoman who is especially brilliant at interrogations. Computer whiz Stacey Chen functions as the Sandra Oh (the unsentimental, ambitious surgeon from “Grey’s Anatomy”)of this series, and diligent, meticulous Kevin Matthews has come out of retirement to work with the team. Karim is the new guy, puppyish and eager, and Alvin Ambrose has transferred from a smaller police force: “He was good at smiles; he’d learned the necessity of defusing the impact of his substantial bulk and the colour of his skin. Big black men had to confound expectations depressingly often.”

Diverse in age, ethnicity and sexual identity, the team is a band of outsiders, and they are all massively good at their jobs. It’s a pleasure to watch them work: Consider the tact with which Kevin takes the statement of an elderly man, or the righteous grilling Paula gives their prime suspect. McDermid is never better than when she’s showing how the tiniest, most mundane details of detection can lead to a breakthrough.

In this instance, unfortunately, the team labors in vain for more than two thirds of INSIDIOUS INTENT. I found myself waiting for the big break --- either a detective’s insight or a mistake by the killer --- and I must say that after a while the lengthy build-up gets a bit tedious. (That’s probably why McDermid introduces a subplot involving the adopted teenage son of Paula and her partner, Eleanor, which to my mind doesn’t add a lot to the story.)

But the main event, as always, is the constant push-and-pull between Tony and Carol. In this book, they are sort of living together, and Tony for once seems in better shape than Carol: protecting her as she suffers under the weight of guilt over past tragedies. Although they fight, there are indications that the temperature is growing warmer. Carol feels “a surge of emotion.” Tony’s heart gives “a spasm of joy.” He even utters the “l” word. They both do. And the quiet passion of their relationship is key to the (very) surprising ending.

It’s such a shocker that McDermid inserts a note at the book’s end asking readers and reviewers not to give the denouement away. Okay, Val.

I will say, though, that this last twist makes an 11th Hill/Jordan novel a near certainty.

Reviewed by Katherine B. Weissman on December 15, 2017

Insidious Intent
by Val McDermid

  • Publication Date: November 20, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802128653
  • ISBN-13: 9780802128652