The Retribution by Val McDermid

McDermid, Val – ‘The Retribution’
Hardback: 416 pages (Sep. 2011) Publisher: Little, Brown ISBN: 140870319X

THE RETRIBUTION is the seventh in Val McDermid’s series about DCI Carol Jordan, leader of the “minorities integration team” in the fictional city of Bradfield, in north-east England, and profiler Tony Hill. Like its predecessors, it is a readable, exciting and slick account of a crime investigation – actually, two crime investigations. In one of these, the villain of an earlier series novel, Jacko Vance, escapes from prison. Vance is an ex-athlete of Olympic standard and an ex-TV presenter, who viciously killed several teenage girls and a colleague of Tony’s some years ago. He’s presented as the nastiest psychopath imaginable, who is bound to have spent his time in prison planning a horrible revenge on those responsible for his downfall. Hence, Tony and Carol, as well as Carol’s team who helped these efforts, are on red alert when they find out that Vance has cleverly outfoxed the prison system and is on the loose.

The second case is one in which several young prostitutes are found murdered with a “signature” tattoo on their wrists. There is some political manoeuvring about who will investigate these crimes, as Carol’s team is being disbanded and she herself is taking up a new post in a nearby town (conveniently, where Tony is now based). Carol does take on the task, being keen for her team to go out on a high as well as wishing to put away the person responsible for the killings.

The story oscillates between the two plots, as both Tony and Carol realise in shocking ways that Vance is outwitting their attempts to predict his moves and is, if possible, an even more evil man than they’d previously realised. The author, who has written two other series and many excellent “stand alone” novels, expertly pulls all the right rabbits out of various hats to mount up tension as both criminals – Vance and the serial killer – seem to be able to continue their plans while the police stumble around in the dark. Tony and Carol have always had a complex relationship: they live in the same house but are not partners, and are more than friends without being romantically involved. In this book, the antics of Vance drive a possibly irretrievable wedge between them, so it is impossible to know if they will continue their association in future, or indeed what will happen to Carol’s team now that its time is up.

This novel is very easy to read, with constant cliffhangers at the end of chapters and several twists in both tales. Yet it does seem rather mechanical , particularly in the serial killer plot, and Carol’s team of minorities are rather hard to distinguish from each other. Vance, also, is superficially presented as a twisted, vile character whom it is easy to hate, especially by those who love animals. If you like Val McDermid’s novels, I’m sure you will like this one too, as you’ll know what to expect and won’t be disappointed – it’s a racy, pacy read, as well as providing neat endings for both plots while leaving all the recurring characters up in the air personally and professionally, so we are not sure where they are all headed until we buy the next book!

Review first published at Euro Crime, October 2011.

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This entry was posted in Books, Crime fiction, England, Eurocrime, Europe, Police procedural, Psychology, Scotland, Series, Thriller. Bookmark the permalink.

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