How The Dead Speak
Val McDermid
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Buy *How The Dead Speak: A Tony Hill and Carol Jordan Thriller* by Val McDermid online

How The Dead Speak: A Tony Hill and Carol Jordan Thriller
Val McDermid
Atlantic Monthly Press
416 pages
December 2019
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines's take on How the Dead Speak.

It says much about McDermid's craft that the reader wants to spend quality time with these characters. We want to live every moment with Dr. Tony Hill, currently in jail and suffering a sense of dislocation after years of talking to patients in mental hospitals and prisons. Tony is no stranger to the "unpleasant cocktail" of people's problems. Six months into his four-year sentence, Tony is still brutally aware of his shortcomings. Now retired from the ReMIT team, Carol Jordan is likewise all too aware. She has been tackling PTSD and has embarked on a series of therapy sessions to attack her recklessness and aggressiveness: "I was putting myself and others in danger."

Tony is careful not to let his wariness of the anarchy that fizzles close to the surface slip. He is a lonely figure plunging into a world at once familiar and alien to him. He thinks he deserves to suffer, though his only true grief is that he misses Carol. As the novel opens, Tony's mother, Vanessa Hill, is coming to visit. Vanessa is a monstrous woman who has blighted Tony's childhood, and her visit will not be easily thwarted.

The general air of instability in How The Dead Speak is channeled by the remaining members of the team: DC Stacey Chen, DI Paula McIntyre and their sudden call back to ReMIT. Carol had assembled a team hand-picked for their skills and individual approaches to the job. Paula now finds herself working for DCI Ian Rutherford; DC Thwaite from South Yorkshire is drafted in for the latest operation, as well as longstanding colleague DS Alvin Ambrose and Steve Nisbet, a new recruit to their team.

McDermid switches points of view, at first focusing on the Temple Fields where Mark Conway cruises the clubs and pubs in search of someone special. Mark has a talent for plucking young men from the jaws of despair and disaster. Our attention is then turned to human remains--thirty bodies found on the convent grounds of St Margaret Clitherow at Bradesden. Paula's job is to find out whose skeletons these are and who put them there. She and Stacey embark on a mission to track down these nuns and any former residents of the home, whom they need to interview as quickly as they can.

While the woman formally known as Sister Mary Patrick has learned to live with others' easy rush to judgement, the convent's caretaker Jezza swears that none of the graves the nuns instructed him to dig were anywhere near where the bodies were found. When DCI Alex Fielding accuses Paula of incompetence, she turns to the girls who were at the convent and the secrets of the Mother Superior, who tells Paula that the girls came from various parts of the country: "they were all Catholic girls and the refuge seemed like the best option."

A large question mark hangs over our heroic leads. Tony's ache for Carol comes close to a physical pain, a tightening that manifests across his temples and a tension in his neck. Tony has an unusual gift of empathy when it comes to figuring out what goes on inside the heads of the damaged and the lost. Carol's years as a cop working the twisted side of the street has taught her that a life of pretense always creates pressures that have a nasty habit of bursting like a boil.

McDermid's drama is beautifully anchored in the Bradford cityscape, but for all her energy and admirable style, there is still something fairly prosaic about the plot. Sometimes McDermid is too keen to paint Tony Hill as the knight in shining armor, a beacon of truth and positivity in a largely fractured landscape. From Bronwen Scott's plea to overturn Saul Neilson's wrongful conviction (only a face-to-face interview with Saul Neilson will help Carol understand what went wrong) to Vanessa's power to damage Tony's future more profoundly than any prison inmate, lives are changed utterly in McDermid's world, with Tony and Carol (and Paula) living to fight another day.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2020

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