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by Val McDermid
Harper, September 1996
463 pages
$out of print
ISBN: 0061011754

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

There's a natural antipathy between many police and the psychologists know as profilers. We've seen it in the television series, we read about it in the news magazines. Still, there's a need for people who can worm their way inside the minds and, perhaps, the souls of the psychopaths among us who go over that edge into murder and, sometimes, much more.

Val McDermid has a well-deserved reputation as the fine writer of a flip, tough female detective, Kate Branigan. The Mermaids Singing is not of that ilk, and her fans should take heed. This is a careful, meticulously researched examination of a killer, an individual unable to come to terms with society, who turns to a terrible kind of revenge. Young men are being hideously murdered, their bodies dumped in the gay section of the city of Bradfield, a fictional city some miles north of London. Assistant Chief Constable John Brandon believes a pattern is emerging, a dangerous unsettling pattern.

To aid in the investigations, he enlists an eminent psychologist, Dr. Anthony Hill, a man with a serious secret personal problem, but who has the background and the expertise to offer substantial help to the police. Unfortunately, both enter the picture with chips on their shoulders and it is a tribute to her talent, that McDermid not only develops a growing admiration between the two men, but is able to inject additional personal and professional tension between Hill and other principals in the investigation in clear and logical fashion The result is that the reader is interested not only in the search for this intelligent careful murderer, but in the developments and the tensions among the professionals.

Finally, this book takes us inside the convoluted, twisted mind of the killer. McDermid does this in exquisite, precise and terrifying detail as the killer records thoughts, events and even ideas, both before and after the killings.

The Mermaids Singing is not comfortable book to read, but its multiple layers are mesmerizing, intricate, and chilling. It is a valuable contribution to the literature. The issues it raises remained with this reviewer long after the book was finished.

The reviewer is the author of




Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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