Torment of Others, The Paperback – 2004
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Top Customer Reviews
The story, or rather stories, since we're following two investigations are also well written. Boths are very sensitive subjects, as it concerns children for one and murder of sexual nature for the other one. We plunge into the horror of these investigations and the frustration experienced by police officers who can't track the culprit fast enough for their liking. The course of the investigation is also a strong point as the methodology and procedures are very well explained. There is no rabbit out of the hat, the results are found through methodical work, although sometimes the searches are based on the reasoning of Tony.
The suspense escalates regularly and ended up really stressing me. This is because we feel empathy - thanks to the talent of McDermid to make us feel the emotions of the characters - just as much for Carol who finds herself in a situation she knows too well as for a character in the book whose life is at stake.Read more ›
I whish she could publish 10 books a year! I am sorry the television series about Tony Hill were cancelled. It gave us added enjoyement of her stories.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I've now read seven of McDermid's books. She's not a great writer but she's a fabulous storyteller and her Tony Hill/Carol Jordan mysteries are the best of the bunch. The first two books aren't written terribly well, but the writing gets better as the series goes on. You may know these characters from the BBC series "Wire in the Blood" starring Robson Green. As an aside, while I generally find film and television adaptations to be far less satisfying than the source material on which they are based, the BBC series is really an exception. While the books have some detail that doesn't make it to the t.v. series, the television program really brings the characters to life and improves on the writing while staying true to the novels, although only the fourth book's plot actually made it to the screen.
As noted by some other reviewers, these books are not for the squeamish. McDermid doesn't pull any punches in writing about vicious psychopaths who commit sex crimes and the books may well be disturbing to many. The second book in particular (more below) actually gave me nightmares. McDermid, however, really gets into the heads of her twisted antagonists and she seems to have done a tremendous amount of research. Most importantly, both Dr. Hill, a clinical psychologist who consults with the police as a profiler, and Carol Jordan, the police officer with whom he works most closely, always feel like real people with investigative abilities and compassion that are easy to admire and foibles that are easy to relate to. They have serious difficulties in forging personal relationships which makes their relationship all the more poignant. Each book focuses on two stories -- a main investigation involving a psychopath and a secondary case that is generally no less compelling, while also following the relationship that develops between the two protagonists. If you've never read any of the books in this series, I would recommend taking them in order. The fourth book is the best, the third the worst, but it's worth reading them in order for the character development (although you could easily skip the third). If you really think you only want to read one, or aren't sure and don't care about spolers, just go straight to the last one. Some people who have read the entire series have found the fourth book repetitive, but it's the one that really works on all levels. Overall, the series gets 4 stars, but here are my individual assessments:
SPOILER FREE REVIEWS
1. The Mermaids Singing - 4 stars
The first of the series is really the only one that delves in any great detail into the personal lives of Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, who come together to investigate the brutal torture and slayings of four men in northern England. McDermid's Tony Hill/Carol Jordan books all deal with issues of sexual identity, but this one does is particularly focused on that as the police suspect a gay man of killing heterosexual men. McDermid shares the thoughts of the killer as well as those of Dr. Hill, who relates all too well to the motivations of the subjects he is asked to profile. The writing in this book is kind of clunky, but the insights of the author into how and why someone sets out to cause maximum pain and humiliation still make it a riveting, if disturbing, read.
2. The Wire in the Blood -- 4 stars
In this second book in the series, teenaged girls are being abducted and brutally raped and tortured to death. We are introduced to an extremely smooth and charismatic character, Jacko Vance, a television celebrity and former star athlete, that Dr. Hill and Carol Jordan called upon to investigate. This is the hardest of the series to read, probably because the killer's victims are all extremely young, naive and female, with no chance whatsoever of fighting back. This book deals with charisma and celebrity as well as sexual deviance and although the writing is still somewhat awkward, it's generally a more compelling novel than the Mermaids Singing.
3. The Last Temptation -- 3 stars
This is the weakest book in the series. On the plus side, McDermid decides to branch out from northern England and take the reader into continental Europe, particularly Germany, where Carol Jordan has gone as an undercover operative to investigate a drug dealer/slave trader. Tony Hill is also in Europe, helping the police solve a series of murders in which psychologists are the victims. McDermid brings to light some of the darker deeds of the Nazis that are generally not known and discussed and for this she should be commended. The writing also starts to improve with this book and the secondary protagonists, two female, European police officers who develop a long-term relationship with each other, are the best of any of the books. There are some serious problems with the novel, however, that make it the weakest of the bunch. First of all, in the other books McDermid is writing about the North of England, which she clearly knows like the back of her hand. The locale in the other books is really the third character after Tony Hill and Carol Jordan. The European locations never quite come to life in the same way. But the biggest problem with The Last Temptation is that McDermid tries too hard to force a particular ending. In order to get where she wants to go, she has to have Carol Jordan do something completely out of character and, frankly, she doesn't do a good job of convincing us of the reason. The whole book feels a bit contrived. Kudos to McDermid for trying something different instead of just writing variations on a theme, but the theme is one she does really well and this effort is a bit disappointing.
4. The Torment of Others -- 5 stars
There's a reason this made the best adaptation of McDermid's books for the BBC series "Wire in the Blood." By this point, McDermid had started to write really well, and she'd really gotten the hang of tying the two story lines together. In the main story, someone is killing prostitutes with the m.o. used by a man currently in an insane asylum. How does the killer know exactly what the prior murderer did? The mystery is more satisfying than that of the prior novels and the sub-plot, involving kidnapped boys, also intrigues. There's not much to learn at this point about Dr. Hill, but while the third book didn't entirely work, the aftereffects of that novel's events on Carol Jordan are all too real and bring the characters' relationship to a new level.
If books on criminal profiling and psychological forensics are your thing, you'll probably really enjoy McDermid's work. If someone has recommended her writing to you and the Dr. Hill/Carol Jordan mysteries sound like they are too gruesome, check out the Grave Tattoo, which is a neat, little literary mystery.
For starters, the plot rises rather high on the implausibility scale; I'm willing to suspend a lot of disbelief when it comes to fiction, but there's a limit, and this book surpasses it. And maybe I just read too much, but the "inside-the-killer's-head" narrative strategy is becoming a little threadbare, too.
Then there are the main characters, who have lost a lot of their former complexity. It's as if McDermid has gotten tired of developing them and instead allows one or two traits to serve as a sort of shorthand for the more-fully-realized characters of yore. Tony, the psychological profiler, has become practically infallible, never making a professional misjudgment. His leaps of intuition are always right on the money. Carol, the maverick detective, is now erratic in ways that are only partly explained by her current psychological situation as a recovering rape victim -- too often her character seems sacrificed to the needs of the story. Carol is supposedly a crack professional, top-notch in her field, yet she overlooks things that can be spotted even by a reader like me, whose knowledge of police work comes solely from reading detective novels. For instance, when Carol & Co. decide to use a cop as a decoy prostitute to suss out the killer, I said to myself, "A decoy? But it's clear that the killer knows the Bradfield red-light district intimately; he'll spot her instantly as a suspicious newcomer." Yet pages and pages elapse before this idea occurs to Carol (or to anyone else except, of course, Tony). And not even an amateur would overlook the possibility that, if one child murder victim is found buried in an out-of-the-way spot, the body of another victim might be in the same area. Yet Tony has to point this out to Carol, who figuratively smacks herself in the head and says, "Why didn't I think of that?" Why? Perhaps because plot has been allowed to trump character.
One element of the Hill/Jordan series that I really like, however, is the presence of gay and lesbian characters whose sexuality is not the point of the story; they are just part of the milieu, the way they would be in life. A few other Amazon reviewers have complained about this presence, seeing it as too heavy-handed, as evincing too much of an "agenda" on McDermid's part. But most novels have no gay characters at all; I wonder if these same Amazon reviewers think such books are promoting a heavy-handed *heterosexual* "agenda." If homosexuality seems too prominent in "Torment of Others," I fear that's a flaw of this particular difficult-to-swallow plot; it doesn't indicate any problem with representing gay characters as such. To my mind, the more visible they are, the better. So rock on, Val.
While it is nice to see Hill and Jordan together again, the book unfortunately lacks a bit of the spark that made a book like The Wire in the Blood so great. I would truthfully give this book three or three-and-a-half stars, but have rounded it up out of deference to the very high quality of the prose. I am not really sure what is missing, but it somehow felt like we were back again at the same point that we were at the beginning of the series, only with everyone a little bit more battered. Carol Jordan, in particular, needs to have some progression that is not rooted in emotional damage.
One unfortunate note was that I guessed the identity of the villain very early on. I am not sure if that is a fault in the plotting or just a lucky guess on my part. Whichever was the case, it took a lot of tension out of the reading experience for me.
If you have never read a Hill-Jordan McDermid before, then I would recommend that you consider starting with The Wire in the Blood or The Mermaids Singing. Established fans will probably get what they came for, but should be aware that The Torment of Others is far from the best in the series.
Val McDermid writes police procedurals with all the newest techie bells and whistles, but doesn't neglect the all important human element. As Hill teams up again with friend and former lover Tony Hill, psych profiler, those around them are also obliged to thread their way through a maze of increasingly multicultural relationships. Who's in and who's out? As their two depressingly sordid cases converge and separate, a series of unforeseen developments emerge to create a surprising climax. Bloody, creepy, and all too real, this is a page turner of a crime novel, in which nobody's perfect.