Criminal profiler Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan have always had an unlikely friendship. In Insidious Intent, it's about to be pushed to the limit. Carol is rankled by her relentless pursuit of a multiple murderer who took the life of her brother and his wife, and the years of policing "at the sharp ends" have given her ample cause for regret. Now living under her roof, Tony wonders how they have remained in each other's orbits. Tony worries about Carol's ability to stay off alcohol and to perform in her leadership role at ReMIT, Bradfield's Regional Major Incident Team, originally formed to investigate a string of violent deaths in the area.
Work calls. There's a murder to solve, and it's grisly one. Someone has set fire to a burning vehicle in layby on an isolated part of the North Yorkshire Dales. As the fire blazes, Tony and Carol see the outline of a figure in the driver's seat. As Tony wonders what's so special about the place, Carol sees that a killer has worked out how to cover his tracks. The use of the victim's car and the intensity of the fire inside have burned the forensics traces. Carol's colleagues--Karim Hussain, Stacey Chen, DI Ken Matthews, and DS Paula McIntyre--are raring to go. The investigation unfolds in a series of dark, urban Bradfield noir-scapes that reflect Carol's state of mind. She is under pressure from John Brandon, her chief constable, to find the perpetrator. Tony is tasked with figuring out how to help Carol hold it together after she conspired to coverup the deaths of four people even after the charges against her were dismissed.
So far, they have mapped the point where the victim, Kathryn McCormack, met her killer. He's a careful planner. He made a clever and deliberate choice of victim. Embarking on the mission of revenge, the killer is also determined to avoid early capture: "the humiliation, the stripping of the things that mattered to him." The case deeply unsettles Tony. Cremating women in their cars is disturbing enough, but what lies beneath is even crueler. There's something callous and dehumanizing as he holds out a promise to both his victims, offering them romance and love: "This twisted bastard wasn't satisfied with murder: he'd had to lace it with spite."
McDermid's chapters alternate between the killer and the investigation. Carol's optimism quickly fades. The perpetrator is proving to be too careful, leaving no trace. Tony thinks he's also on a mission: "if he's careless, and if he gets caught, he will still want to be able to complete." For Kevin in particular, the indignity of a killer who treats women with scorn and contempt only compounds his felony. McDermid writes with a somewhat surreal approach to the crime. As more victims are uncovered, Carol spins out of control, Tony unable to reign her in. With the press hounding her and her bosses about to turn on her, Carol is terrified her team is going to be consigned to the scrapheap if she doesn't deliver something soon.
Over the years we have come to love McDermid's characters. Paula worries about Torrin, her adopted son, the cliché of the uncommunicative teenager. A chapter is dedicated to Stacey, who uses her considerable tech skills to help out her best friend and colleague. Carol remains the star of the tale as she tries to hold off the demons she had assumed had been kept at bay. Tony is instrumental in finding the evidence that provides them with a viable suspect, but with another girl's life hanging in the balance and no solid evidence on which to convict, Carol attempts to disregard her own personal and professional standards once she is certain she knows what the killer plans next.
McDermid does a fine job of describing Bradfield and the remote Yorkshire Dales, so often wracked by bad weather and inhabited by stubborn residents who tough out the extreme conditions. Her tense writing style melds solid police work and the small, unglamorous steps that go into solving crime. Yes, the crimes of this twisted psychopath are shocking, but the novel's denouement is even more so. Like a fractured Chinese box, a new episode opens up in Tony and Carol's relationship as Tony's love for the embattled police detective is tested to the limit.