Source: Review copy
Publication: 22ND August 2019 from Little, Brown
‘We are all creatures of habit. Even murderers . . .’
When human remains are discovered in the grounds of an old convent, it quickly becomes clear that someone has been using the site as their personal burial ground. But with the convent abandoned long ago and the remains dating back many years, could this be the work of more than one obsessive killer?
It’s an investigation that throws up more questions as the evidence mounts, and after their last case ended catastrophically, Tony Hill and Carol Jordan can only watch from afar. As they deal with the consequences of previous actions, someone with a terrifying routine is biding their time – and both Tony and Carol find themselves closer to the edge than they have ever been before . . .
After the explosive ending of the 10th Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novel, Insidious Intent, I could not wait for this book. I adore this series and all of these characters. I feel personally invested in them and need them to succeed.
So for me, finding that at the start of the book, Tony is in prison serving a four year jail sentence and Carol is no longer a cop, is a real shake up to the series.
For not only is Carol no longer a cop, the Major Incident Team she headed has been revamped under the aegis of DCI Ian Rutherford, a policeman whose gaze is always upwards, looking for his next opportunity for promotion and the kind of cop who needs to make sure therefore, that everything is strictly by the book.
So when a series of human remains, clearly from some years back, are found at St.Margaret Clitherow Refuge, once a Catholic home for children, Rutherford sets about taking over the case from the murder squad, much to the disgruntlement of DCI Alex Fielding, whose team was already working the case.
McDermid nicely heads each chapter with a paragraph from the book that Tony Hill is writing while in prison, “ Reading Crimes”. Tony has refused to see Carol until she seeks help for the trauma she has experienced. But when he is faced with an ultimatum from his mother, he knows he has little option but to reach out to Carol in the hope that she can help with his mother’s problem which requires investigative skills to help her regain some money she has been conned out of.
Carol has secluded herself away and is working on refining her restoration skills, now expanded into furniture making.
She is approached by an old sparring partner, solicitor Bronwen Scott, who is part of a team looking to restore justice to prison inmates who have a decent case to claim that they have been wrongly convicted. Bronwen wants Carol to use her investigative skills and experience as part of that team, initially to look into the case of a gay man, Saul Nelson, who has been convicted of the murder of a young rent boy, with a view to preparing a case for the Criminal Case Review Commission.
In a beautiful plot move, more bodies are then discovered in the grounds of the former refuge. These are clearly more recent, having been found under a vegetable plot, their heads wrapped in plastic bags. If we didn’t know it before, we now know for certain that a serial killer is at work.
D.I. Paula MacIntyre ,Stacey Chen, Karim Hussain and new recruit, Steve Nisbet have their work cut out to find where these bodies have come from and I love the scenes where Paula interviews the Mother Superior and realises that she has come up against an inscrutable force. The team dynamic is different now and with Paula at the forefront and Stacey champing against the bit, there’s a lot to enjoy in this police procedural.
McDiarmid cleverly weaves these distinct plot strands together, combining her impressive command of forensics with her usual deft approach to character and plotting. She is able to seamlessly draw lessons from the ReMit cases and although there is a theme of Catholic abuse running through one of the cases, the real abuse is of power and absolute power as McDermid clearly demonstrates.
She also deals well with the theme of redemption, whether that is through the cases that Bronwen Scott is looking to re-open, or through Tony Hill’s new prison endeavours. For some though, there is no redemption, just sheer malevolence.
In How the Dead Speak, McDermid has opened up new avenues for Tony and Carol to pursue. Whether she will take them further down that path, I don’t know, but I am happy that she has, at least, left her characters in a better place for now.
Verdict: Riveting and completely immersive, How the Dead Speak is a terrific read. A complex storyline, nicely interwoven with McDermid’ usual deft plotting, great characterisation and a healthy dose of reality thrown in. Highly recommended.
Val McDermid is a number one bestseller whose novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over sixteen million copies. She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award.
She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009, was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2010 and received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award in 2011. In 2016, Val received the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and in 2017 received the DIVA Literary Prize for Crime, and was elected a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Val has served as a judge for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize, and was Chair of the Wellcome Book Prize in 2017. She is the recipient of six honorary doctorates and is an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She writes full-time and divides her time between Edinburgh and East Neuk of Fife.