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by Val McDermid
St. Martin's Minotaur, September 2002
431 pages
ISBN: 0312290896

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In her customary powerful and authoritative prose, Val McDermid juggles several stories in this novel, managing to make them all intelligible to the reader and comprehensible to the investigators. The result is an insightful, masterful crime novel that is most enjoyable to read.

There seem to be four series of events happening at once. Tadeusz Rudecki, a crime lord, is smuggling Chinese workers into Western Europe and ultimately Britain. Chief Detective Inspector Carol Jordan has applied for and achieved a position in the National Criminal Intelligence Service, a position which seems to be less intelligence gathering and more undercover work. Psychologist Tony Hill, restless as a reader at a Scottish University, is wondering if he should get back into criminal profiling work. And a psychotic murderer is roaming the waterways of Europe.

We follow all four of these stories as they develop into fascinating suspenseful dramas. In the process we meet two appealing and intriguing European women cops, one Dutch and one German. We see Carol and Tony operating in Berlin outside of their usual environment. And we see some harrowing examples of violence and cruelty to children. If descriptions of these actions bothers you, you may not wish to read this book. However there is nothing gratuitous about these descriptions.

As always Ms. McDermid draws the reader into the story and makes it impossible to stop reading. The tension is great and expands as the stories begin to merge towards the end. We see that for the police sometimes the end justifies the means. We learn some of the terrible cruelties that presumably humane psychologists inflicted during the Nazi era. We discover the international character of crime and the difficulty of national police forces in dealing with it.

There is a good sense of place about the novel, especially of the rivers and the boats that journey up and down them carrying goods to every corner of Europe. Berlin also comes alive for the reader which shows that McDermid has done her homework well, for this is not her home ground by any means. The plot is compelling and unsettling. You will not close this book with a satisfied smile although the stories are tied up and resolution is accomplished.

The characters are believable and realistic, people with strengths and weaknesses, with hopes and fears, hesitant and often lonely and vulnerable. If perhaps the master criminal is a little too perfect and the psychotic killer a little too frightening, that is as we would expect. They are drawn with broad brush strokes and they must become figures of great good and evil. And they are not single-faceted, for even the most dismayed reader will recognize sympathetic aspects.

As with all her books, I think this is an outstanding crime novel and one that I highly recommend.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, September 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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