Fever of the Bone, By Val McDermid

Reviewed,Rebecca Armstrong@RebeccaJ
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:09

Fever of the Bone is the sixth in the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan crime series, which has made the leap from page to prime time as ITV's Wire in the Blood. Val McDermid has conquered the box and sold 10 million sold books - and her latest proves that she's worth every sale. Fever of the Bone opens with DCI Jordan under pressure from a new boss, chief constable James Blake, who makes it clear that he thinks her reliance on criminal profiler Dr Tony Hill is not only expensive, but corrupt, given that Hill is both her friend and landlord.

Blake is also unenthusiastic about Jordan's cold-case squad, giving her an ultimatum. The politics of the command chain, it seems, can undermine even the brilliant Jordan. She's drinking too much and is unsure of the nature of her relationship with Hill.

The good doctor is under pressure too. After finding out the identity of the father he has never known - Arthur Blythe - only after his death, Hill is ambivalent about his inheritance, financial and emotional. Hill's mother Vanessa is still skulking around, a figure who seems to have been inspired by a folkloric wicked stepmother rather than anything resembling a real person.

Against this backdrop, Jordan's team is attempting to find out what really happened to a missing mother and child who vanished more than a decade ago. The case is driven as much by her professionalism as the awareness her future is at stake. And when a teenager is found dead, she has to do without Hill's skills. Meanwhile, Hill is called out to another case - one which, it transpires, has links with Jordan's.

In a book that takes in social networking and teenage angst, it would be easy for the average author to slip up on technicality or tone, but McDermid treads the technological - and teen - paths with ease. As the killer despatches more victims, leaving horrific genital injuries, Hill begins to suspect that the murderer's motivation is something far more complicated than sexual perversion. Given the depressing regularity with which paedophiles stalk the pages of crime novels, it's something of a relief - albeit a bloody one - that Hill's prey is an altogether rarer beast.

McDermid introduces us to each victim before their demise and, however, unsavoury the personalities of some young characters, it's impossible not to care about their fate, and their families', as the violent full stop is added to the short chapters of their lives. This level of detail makes one root all the more for the police on the trail of their killer.

With so much detail given over to the minutiae of two murder investigations, it's rather a shame that the denouement is so brisk. We're left with a cliffhanger at the end, but it's an emotional mystery that needs to be cracked, rather than a criminal one. How adroit Hill and Jordan are at solving it remains to be seen.

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