Book Review: Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid

Fever of the Bone
Val McDermid
Harper, 2010
ISBN 978-006198648-2
Trade Paperback

Val McDermid‘s latest Carol Jordan/Tony Hill novel more than lives up to the expectations raised by the previous books in the series.  DCI Carol Jordan now heads up her own elite Major Incident Team, handling current as well as cold cases, but the status quo is threatened by the new chief constable, as is the team’s consulting arrangement with Dr.
Tony Hill, clinical psychologist and criminal profiler extraordinaire. The tale covers a series of horrendous murder/mutilations of young, seemingly unconnected victims, and an old case into which new life [so to speak] has been infused.  Newly available lines of investigation, of course, in both forensics and information technology, play a large role.  In the current case, not the least of the questions is, what possible motivation could there be in the killing and mutilation of 14-year-olds?

There are few straight lines in the narrative, with scenes alternating from one aspect of the story line to another, but somehow that works to only increase the suspense quotient.  The portraits of Carol’s team members are well-drawn, with each having a distinct personality and set of talents.  I found it fascinating to get inside the head of Tony Hill, a man who is troubled by his own psyche, but whose expertise lies in his ability to get inside of the head of the person whose identity he is hunting.  The intimate [albeit chaste] relationship of Jordan and Hill is, as always, a thing of beauty and wholly satisfying to the reader [if not always to the participants].  The novel is tightly plotted, the writing containing some small gems, e.g., “offer[ing] up information . . . in the spirit of a dog dropping a soggy newspaper at the feet of its human,” and, speaking of an outgoing phone message, “his phone greeting sounded astonished and wary, as if he was taken aback by a ringing piece of plastic that spoke when you lifted it.”

Ms. McDermid manages to find just the right turn of phrase to perfectly capture a mood, or an emotion, often bringing a smile or a nod in the process. Parenthetically, I found intriguing that the number 14 runs through the book in several contexts.  Refreshingly, the cases are ultimately solved through no sudden [read ‘unrealistic’] flashes of brilliance, but by painstaking police work, “old-fashioned coppering,” in the author’s words.  The book is highly recommended.  [The title, in case you were wondering, derives from a T.S. Elliot poem.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.