"The times they are a changin'..."--a phrase well-suited to Val McDermid's new thriller, How the Dead Speak. Since their last case, the Regional Major Incident Team has lost its leader, DCI Carol Jordan, and her trusted criminal profiler, Tony Hill. Hill is serving a prison term for murder, and Jordan has left the force to reconstruct her life after a deeply traumatic series of events.
Thanks to the promotion of DC Paula McIntyre, the REMIT team raises the banner in Jordan's absence, armed with Stacy Chen, McIntyre's IT whiz, and the able detectives who collaborate in investigating major crimes. There is one potential problem, however, in the person of DCI Ian Rutherford, a careerist who values his professional reputation above the successes of the team.
When a shocking number of bodies are discovered on the grounds of a Catholic orphanage, the Saint Margaret Clitherow Refuge and School, the public immediately clamors for information. The investigation has barely begun, unmarked graves yielding the bones of unwanted girls, a massive task quickly assaulted by a frantic media. More complications ensue when a cadaver dog uncovers adult male skeletons in a nearby caretaker's planting beds, one of whom is a known murder victim whose presumed killer is behind bars.
While tracking Carol Jordan's attempts to reconstruct her life without hope of returning to her career and Tony Hill's survival while incarcerated, McDermid segues between the original case of bodies buried at the orphanage to the ancillary investigation of adult remains nearby, creating another addictive thriller. Dodging the omnipresent Rutherford, Paula McIntyre dissects the many faces of evil with those who seek to stem the tide of criminal behavior in this contemporary case, stripping the veil of innocence from a religious institution charged with the welfare of the unwanted and unseen. In actions that reek of Middle Ages torture chambers, long-rooted patterns of sin and punishment thrive in the care of fanatics too long shielded from public outrage.
This is the pursuit of serial murder at its most challenging and complicated, including identifying not only "holy murderers" but also an opportunistic serial killer cultivating a convenient burial site. Like a well-oiled machine, the plot falls into place, the self-aggrandizing, finger-pointing DCI Rutherford ever on scene to manipulate events to his advantage and humiliate anyone he fears is competition, especially brilliant investigators like PC Paula McIntyre.
Though Rutherford's choices for assignment are counterintuitive, those given the opportunity rise to the occasion, already in sync with fellow investigators, relying on cooperation to crack the case. A team like REMIT has particular skills, drawn together to face the most difficult and harrowing of cases. They manage the pursuit of particularly heinous criminals by focusing on details, evidence supported by facts, persons of interest and witness interviews, and a refusal to name killers "monsters" despite the inhumane acts perpetrated on others. "We don't talk about monsters here, just people who do monstrous things...it makes them invisible." The point: "I've come across quite a few...and none of them are bigger than life."
The masterful McDermid never disappoints, the future of the REMIT team unknown in Rutherford's ambitious hands, a group of characters evolving and adapting in a world where predicting the future is a foolish pursuit. Not to worry: McDermid will sort it out.