McDermid, Val - 'Trick of the Dark'
TRICK OF THE DARK is a stand-alone psychological thriller by Val McDermid. The heroine and sleuth is Charlie Flint, a psychiatrist married to dentist Maria, living in Manchester and suffering from the seven-year itch. Charlie is also in turmoil in her professional life: at the opening of the novel she is waiting for the GMC's judgement of a disciplinary hearing against her. The disciplinary hearing is due to Charlie producing a forensic report resulting in the acquittal of Bill Hopton from a murder charge, following which he went on to kill four women.
Charlie is at a loose end whilst suspended from work, and is intrigued by a parcel of press cuttings sent to her anonymously relating to the murder of a groom, Phillip Carling on his wedding day at her alma mater, the (fictional) Oxford college of St Scholastika. When Charlie realises that she used to baby-sit the bride, Magda, she suspects (correctly) that her former Oxford tutor, Magda's mother, Corinna Newsam has sent her the cuttings as a test. With little else to do, and an added incentive to visit Oxford in the hopes of meeting up again with alluring psychologist Lisa, Charlie agrees to meet Corinna and start investigating. Corinna believes that the couple convicted of the murder, Paul Barker and Joanna Sanderson, Carling's business partners, are innocent, and that Magda's new girlfriend, Jay another former Oxford student was the culprit.
Jay is the author of a hugely successful misery-lit memoir, Unrepentant, and is in the process of writing a sequel. After being neglected by her drug-addled mother, then mistreated by her domineering Christian stepfather she escapes her bleak childhood in Roker, by getting a place at Oxford. After Oxford, Jay founded a hugely successful dot.com company, selling the company for millions shortly before the bubble burst, and founding another successful internet tourism information site. Those who pose an obstacle to Jay on her route to power and wealth seem to come to a nasty end, so Charlie has to investigate whether Jay is a ruthless serial killer as Corinna suspects, or merely the victim of an unfortunate series of coincidences. Jay's perspective on events is gradually revealed to us, through a combination of chapters from Jay's point of view, and extracts from Unrepentant and its sequel.
TRICK OF THE DARK is an entertaining, thought-provoking page turner, focusing more on relationships than her previous books. It is refreshing to see a crime novel where the main characters, including investigators and perpetrators rather than just the victims are female, and to see female sexuality (mainly lesbian sexuality) dealt with in a convincing matter-of-fact way. There is a strong sense of place as well. Val McDermid pays affectionate homage to her time at Oxford in TRICK OF THE DARK. Given the book is dedicated to her tutors, presumably she found her tutors as influential and inspiring as her fictional characters did. Although St Scholastika doesn't exist, the buildings, riverside setting and influence of female tutors closely resemble St Hilda's, where Val McDermid studied. Overall, the book is the usual classy page-turner from this author, with very good characterisation, and some sly humour in its take on misery memoirs. My only slight quibble about this book is that the ending does feel a little contrived to provide a suitable twist in the tale.
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Laura Root, England