Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid

UK Cover
Fever of the Bone is the 6th entry in Val McDermid’s Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series. It’s the first one of the series that I’m reading. Usually I make myself start at the beginning of a series, but this time around I just jumped in with no regrets. It’ll actually be enjoyable to read the earlier books in the series to see where everyone started.

There are many wonderful characters in the novel. Some I presumed were series characters and others not, so as characters came on stage, I didn’t always know who the regulars were. This made things interesting, because knowing it was part of a series forced me to pay a bit more attention to everyone.

I picked up Fever in the Bone at Borders during the liquidation sale. I’d been planning on reading more Val McDermind and Fever first came to my attention after it won a 2010 Lambda Literary Award for best lesbian mystery. But don’t let that scare you off, dear reader. Val McDermid is mainstream all the way. It’s just that, apparently, fictional lesbian characters are more mainstream in the UK than the US.

Fever in the Bone is a serial killer novel, one of those that opens with the discovery of a body. Another body is found with similar patterns and the race is on to catch the killer before he/she strikes again. McDermid doesn’t go into graphic detail and the actual killings all happen off stage, but be warned that genital mutilation is involved. Just those two words, when combined, seem graphic enough without needing anymore detail to seem too graphic for some. I know it freaks me out.

In the beginning Chief Inspector Patterson and his ‘bagman’ Alvin Ambrose are at the scene of a body dump—a fourteen year old girl’s body is found. She’d just been reported missing, too. At the same time, Chief Inspector Carol Jordan has been saddled with a new boss who wants to cut costs and one of the first expenses he slashes is the profiling expertise of Tony Hill, Jordan’s landlord/friend/potential-lover-in-denial, and professional colleague. The new boss also wants to end Jordan’s team’s work on cold cases, which he thinks takes away from serving the public in the here and now. Soon, Jordan’s team is investigating the murder of a fourteen year old boy. And then the murder of a second boy. Tony Hill was called in as a profiler by Patterson and even though he’s officially out of the loop with Jordan’s team, he makes connections between the killings.

That’s the main plot. There’s also a subplot that features a cold case that one of Jordan’s underlings is spearheading and then a second subplot that revolves around Tony Hill’s father. Hill never knew his father, but the man died wealthy and left his estate to his son. I suppose you could say there’s a third subplot which is the emotional/sexual tension between Hill and Jordan.

McDermid does a smooth job of weaving all these plots together. I became attached to not only Hill and Jordan, but to members of Jordan’s team (Paula, Kevin, Stacey, and Sam) as well as to Alvin Ambrose. And Patterson, too, because you gotta love a boss that “doesn’t transfer the pressure from above for results to his team” (28).

Another good thing about this book is the language. McDermid is from Scottland and lives in Northern England, so you get lots of fabulous words and sayings that are English, but still foreign to US readers. They add flavor that would be lost in translation if translation were necessary.

Here’s a taste:

  • On the knocker
  • You berk
  • I know nowt
  • pillocks
  • tipple
  • spazoid
  • slag
  • poxy
  • Sussed him
  • agrass
  • boffins
  • nonces
  • and there are lots of lads, lasses, mates, and blokes. And twats.
I especially enjoyed how the characters who are lesbian are presented as just normal people trying to live their lives. McDermid doesn’t coddle the audience and makes no veiled argument that “lesbians are people, too.” They just are. I once listened to a book podcast (sadly, I don’t remember the source or I’d provide the link, but it was possibly The Guardian Books Podcast) where it was mentioned that the UK is more accepting than the US of gay & lesbian writers and characters. Off the top of my head, the gay or lesbian characters that I’ve recently stumbled upon in mainstream novels have all been by non-US writers. I’m thinking of Louise Penny (Canada), Emma Donoghue (Canada by way of Ireland), and Sarah Waters (England). Patricia Cornwell is the only mainstream US writer that I know of who regularly includes gay and lesbian characters. What do you think?

Here’s a list of the Tony Hill novels in chronological order:

  1. The Mermaids Singing (1995)
  2. The Wire in the Blood (1997)
  3. The Last Temptation (2002)
  4. The Torment of Others (2004)
  5. Beneath the Bleeding (2007)
  6. Fever of the Bone (2009)
  7. US cover
  8. The Retribution (2011)
Overall, this was an absolutely fulfilling mystery. I liked that it revolved around a social networking site, the fictitious RigMarole, and the detectives use good old “coppering” (questioning, looking, thinking) skills along with high tech computer techniques, psychological profiling, and DNA/medical forensics. The characters don’t suffer at the hands of the plot, and the plot is familiar yet has enough twists to make things feel fresh.

Fever of the Bone

Val McDermid
Harper, 2009
ISBN 978-0-06-198648-2
Format: Quality paperback
Pages: 500

Source: bought it at Borders :'(

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