McDermid’s contemporary tale mixes the very public death of popular sports figure Robbie Bishop with an outrageous act of violence in an unusual case that defies the normal course of police procedures: “Honesty was seldom the best policy when it came to the criminal justice system.”
When the poison that killed Robbie is finally identified, the nature of that poison - and a following violent incident - bring out the British CTC, Counter Terrorism Command, who swarm all over the offices of Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan’s crack Major Incident Team. Jordan is left to pursue a “lesser” death; but, of course, she has no intention of walking away from the outrage that happened on her watch.
While the jack-booted “Imperial storm troopers” intimidate witnesses, Jordan carries on her investigation, beginning with the death of Robbie Bishop and other associated crimes. Usually Jordan works closely with Dr. Tony Hill, a psychologist and criminal profiler, but Hill is currently in hospital recovering from an attack by an axe-wielding mental patient determined to deliver souls to God in time for the last days. After agonizing hours of surgery on his damaged leg, Hill remains somewhat incapacitated but surfaces from his drug-induced torpor often enough to help Jordan profile their killer and narrow the search.
An unresolved tension between Hill and Jordan crackles throughout the thriller, adding a nice touch of the personal to an unusual investigation. Then there is the unexpected presence of Tony’s mother at his bedside, a woman on a mission who will not be deterred and nearly succeeds in taking advantage of her son’s incapacity.
Chaos looms as Jordan’s squad struggles to resolve Bishop’s death along with other suspicious circumstances. Jordan, frequently ambivalent about her feelings for Hill, needs his expertise and support. There is a sharp contrast between the counter-terrorism officers, who bully and harass, while Jordan’s detectives work quietly in the background, gradually getting to the heart of Bishop’s murder.
In this highly readable, literate thriller, McDermid makes use of the unexpected, avoiding the obvious and adding layers of sophistication to the genre that are particularly satisfying. In the age of terrorism, sometimes regular police work bears more fruit than fear and intimidation. A little political, a little personal, McDermid strikes all the right notes.