When it comes to series novels, readers have a variety of motivations for returning book after book, but what most fans agree on is that the central reason for the success of a series resides with the characters themselves. Val McDermid’s Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series is a perfect example. Not only are the two leads fascinating characters, but McDermid surrounds them with a supporting cast of characters readers have come to truly care about over the course of seven novels. As readers begin Cross and Burn, all of those personalities are troubled and dealing with the emotional ramifications brought about at the end of the last novel, The Retribution.
Some time has passed since those events, but it quickly becomes clear that very little healing has taken place. DCI Carol Jordan has given up her career and the remaining member of her Major Incident Team have been scattered about. Tony Hill, who has always had a tenuous relationship with the police, is not being called in on cases as frequently as he once was and he clearly is not dealing with the fallout brought about by the loss of Carol from his life.
With this novel, McDermid very smoothly moves Paula McIntyre from a more supporting role to a leading player. Paula has been promoted and is now working with a new boss, DCI Alex Fielding. Readers who are also fans of the television series based on the books, called Wire in the Blood, will recognize DCI Fielding as a character that first existed only on the screen but now makes her first appearance in the written series. True to her on-screen character, Alex brings additional tension and conflict to this group of misfits.
Over the course of a few books, readers have watched Paula’s home life with lover Elinor Blessing go through some rough patches, but finally things seem to have leveled out for them. But when Paula takes on a missing persons case involving a friend and co-worker of Elinor’s, their lives suddenly become much more complicated. They decide to take in the minor child of this missing woman in an effort to minimize his trauma. However, what starts out as a fairly routine missing persons case quickly becomes something more sinister and serial in nature.
It wouldn’t be a Val McDermid book without a fiendish villain with a twisted motive for this team to ferret out. Paula is able to tie the disappearance of this family friend to another current case in which the victims of kidnapping and murder all seem to bear a striking resemblance to Carol Jordan. When evidence in that case leads to Tony Hill being named as the prime suspect, everyone – whether currently friend or foe – is going to need to pull together to prove his innocence to DCI Alex Fielding and the others in control.
The history of these characters is vital and McDermid excels at making that understandable even to new readers. It is easy to feel the pain and loss these people are feeling as they struggle to make amends while remaining loyal and steadfast to their values. As always Val McDermid also nails the technical details of police work. There is an extended sequence in which Tony Hill puzzles out the profile of the real killer which is without a doubt one of the best written examples I have encountered of how the mind of a forensic profiler works.
In short, readers may come to Val McDermid’s Cross and Burn for the exceptional writing, the clever plot, or the accurately rendered setting and police work, but it is the characters that will make them care. And more importantly, it will be those characters who will make them return for the next in the series, when readers will learn how these new ordeals will affect the ongoing lives of our fictional friends.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.