“The Mermaids Singing” by Val McDermid
A psychological profiler is called in to assist the police in trying to find the perpetrator of a series of murders. As the murders progress, the level of sadistic torture and mutilation of each of the bodies is escalated and the police need the help of a profiler to help them break the case. However, some officers believe that it’s all a load of hogwash and put all their efforts into “traditional” policing methods.
Where is it set?
It is set in the fictional town of Bradfield, but it is very characteristic of places like Yorkshire or Northumberland. It is an older book, written about 20 years ago and so is not as technologically enhanced as current crime thrillers/police procedurals are. There are no mobile phones, no emails, no DNA profiling, nothing much in the way of digital at all which makes for an interesting setting.
Who is the main characters?
The main characters are Carol Jordan, a police inspector and Tony Hill, the psychologist. And the murderer of course.
My overall impression?
I have tried a few Val McDermid books now and I haven’t been too thrilled with any of them so I wasn’t expecting too much from this one neither. I chose to read it because I saw a review of her latest book on Amazon and decided to try the series right from the start. I did enjoy it overall, and the finale was brilliant. I could see where it was heading a long way from the end but it was well written and I found the characters were generally well rounded and believable.
I enjoyed the uncluttered investigation of the 1990s – because there were no mobile phones or email for example – and I enjoyed a “purer” story for its lack of scientific and technological encumbrances we get in modern crime thrillers.
However, there were a couple of things that didn’t sit well with me and were irritating to say the least. First of all we get an insight into the murderer’s mind with extracts from a diary kept on a computer. It was typed in italics, which isn’t too bad for short passages, but in this book they went on for ages and ages. I enjoyed the flip of viewpoint between murderer and narrator, but it played havoc with my eyes trying to read extended passages in italics. A publishing thing rather than an author thing, but something I think as a reader can either add to or remove a lot of enjoyment from reading a book.
Also, there were some parts of the “diary” that I found too graphic and so I skipped those. Intimate descriptions of medieval torture are not to my liking and I don’t think they had a purpose other than to provoke a strong reaction in the reader.
All the way through I was asking myself “where do the mermaids come into it, and why were they singing?” There is nothing in the book at all that relates to either mermaids, singing, mermaids singing, enticement or anything else that you could associate with mermaids or the sea etc, so I don’t quite understand the title. Sorry Val!
Will I read the next in the series?
I would have said “yes” to this as I finished this one, but I’ve already downloaded the next (Wire in the Blood) but have avoided reading any more than just the prologue for the past few days. I’m not sure I want to carry on, but I’m interested to know what happens to Tony Hill in this one as it carries on from the end of The Mermaids Singing.
Would I recommend it to my friends?
Probably not. The police procedural part of it was good – decent story, good characterisation, plenty of room for red herrings, the stock “plod” characters etc – but the murder scenes were too graphic and I wouldn’t want my friends to have their stomachs churned like mine was. I have a fairly strong stomach and I can tolerate reading about all sorts of things, but this was just a bit too much for me and I couldn’t expect my friends to read it neither.