I’m hyper-conscious of domestic violence and psychotic mental illness and the sordid social ills that lead to them. I find myself wincing at the movies I used to love and even giving up the Netflix dramas I used to love. There’s enough drama in life. The most I can manage on a weeknight is a 20-minute giggle at Brooklyn 99 and I’d rather go back to Die Hard, which has mellowed with age, than watch the next John Wick movie.
But for some reason serial killer books remain the stuff of fantasy. There remains a level of safe remove, even of escape into unreality. That’s why one particularly grim night a week ago, after receiving some bad news about the illness of an old friend, there was no comfort like curling up with a new killer, from an old author I knew would deliver. Scottish writer Val McDermid has written 38 books over 30 years; she’s got the goods.
Insidious Intent (2017) is the latest in her most high-profile series, featuring detective inspector Carol Jordan and criminal profiler Tony Hill (you might remember, they featured in British TV series Wire in the Blood, which ran from 2002-2009).
There were unexpected evolutions for Carol and Tony in their last outing, Splinter the Silence, and I was keen to see where she took them next. I was not disappointed. Her genius lies in not just detailed, realistic police procedurals but in complex, flawed yet likeable characters. There is no point in a cracking plot if your characters fall flat, and McDermid has created a diverse and compelling cast in Tony, Carol and their motley team.
She develops them even further in this, and there is also AN AMAZING TWIST WHICH I WILL NOT RUIN FOR YOU in case you read it, which you should.
Actually you should probably read the series from the beginning in order to completely appreciate the twist. Book one was The Mermaids Singing (1995). Off you go.
Time off from The Curing of a Bibliomaniac is allowed, because my friend Sturdy lent me this alluring paperback and anything by J. K . Rowling, that is, Robert Galbraith, is essential reading.
My history as a crime junkie dates back to a time after I finished my uni degree, filled with postmodern literature, ye olde English literature, film theory, poetry, Shakespeare, Shakespeare in film, Australian fiction, Australian fiction in film, etc, etc.
This stuff was wicked, but it bruised my brain so severely that by the time I graduated I shuddered at the very sight of a Thinky Book.
Enter crime. The compulsive nature of crime serials by excellent authors such as Val McDermid, Colin Dexter, Lee Child, Ian Rankin and Frances Fyfield, to name but a few, served as a panacea to my aching soul, serving up quality reading material in a structure I could rely upon to be relatively unchanging.
Like a fool, I kept buying all kinds of books as well as these, hence large, slightly bibliomaniacal (is this a word?) collection of the unread. And the need for a cure. Hehehe. Searching for a cure for the unread. Get it?
But I digress. Suffice it to say that when a friend delivers a succulent new morsel such as this, I drop everything and snuggle down and say goodbye to society for a couple of days.
Silkworm did not disappoint – Galbraith’s writing is so deft and perceptive you can’t help but break into delighted smiles as you read, nodding in recognition, and sometimes even a giggle at some particularly incisive phrase.
The evocation of London is such that it makes you long to see it in front of you as Strike (central character, ex-soldier-turned private detective) does. Well, at least it was raining in Perth.
This is the second novel in the series, the first being The Cuckoo’s Calling, and as Sturdy says, there is some excellent character development in this instalment, with the promise of more to come.
The same thing struck me about Silkworm as The Cuckoo’s Calling: Galbraith inhabits diverse worlds with remarkable comfort, moving from poverty to riches, and detailing industries from fashion to publishing as though born to them.
This is a joy to read, a traditional, engrossing detective novel with everything it needs to be among the best in the genre: depth of character, tight plot, mood and style, with some deliciously shivery moments. It deserves to have real money spent on a physical book that takes up real space in your house.
If you’ll indulge me in a cringey metaphor, it’s more satisfying than a good meal, because generally after good food you feel a bit overfull and regretful, whereas this is a perfect portion that leaves you wanting more.
After continuing with How to Cure a Bibliomaniac, of course.