Review: INSIDIOUS INTENT by Val McDermid

I stopped reading this series a while back. I can’t remember which book it was now but I just found it too violent for my taste at the time. However I’ve come to really love McDermid’s writing via her standalone novels and those of the Karen Pirie series that I’ve read. So when I spotted the latest book to feature Carol Jordan and Tony Hill was available for my ears with my absolute favourite narrator at the helm I decided to give it a go. It’s been a few days since I finished listening and I’m still somewhat conflicted about it.

It might not the best place to start – or restart – the series as there are a lot of references to events from earlier books but McDermid does a good job of providing enough details for new readers to grasp the big stuff. Carol is in charge of a the newly established ReMIT (Regional Major Incident Team) which is meant to take on the area’s biggest cases or those that cross other jurisdictional boundaries. She’s not only been hand-picked for the job but, it seems, her own law-breaking has been hidden by those above her so that she can take the role. Soon she, and her carefully chosen team which includes many of the officers she has worked with previously, are called in on their first investigation. A woman’s body has been found in a burned out car but she was dead before the fire started.  The high-profile new team is under pressure from the outset as all the area police forces have to fund ReMIT’s operations from their own budgets and no one is happy when progress is slow. Especially when there is another death that follows the same pattern.

The story is, as I’ve come to expect from McDermid, superbly constructed. Even though readers know all along who the killer is and why he has committed the murders there is still a lot of suspense. Has the killer planned well enough that he might actually get away with multiple murders? What can police do when there is no evidence left behind and no witnesses to be found? We seem to expect miracles of law enforcement these days, especially now that we are all amateur investigators thanks to the plethora of true crime documentaries and podcasts, while it has surely never been easier for a criminal to learn all they need to know about forensic awareness. Have we made things too easy for the smart criminal? This is a strong theme of the book and should give us all pause for thought.

An element of the book I am less comfortable with is the blasé attitude most of the police in it seem to have developed regarding their own law breaking. I don’t know how many people were involved with the cover up of Carol’s crime but it’s at least a handful. And two of the ReMIT team break several laws because the foster son of one of them is in some trouble with cyberbullying. I appreciate that many parents would do the same given half a chance (which, of course, most wouldn’t have) but one of the officers is no relation to the boy at all. She’s just breaking the law because she can. Because it suits her to help her friend. She is the same officer who destroys the digital life of a former boyfriend (undoubtedly breaking a few more laws along the way) because he did something she disagrees with. Perhaps this says more about me and my current mindset but this almost universal willingness to throw the rules out the window when convenient really did not sit well with me at all. But does that mean the book is flawed? I don’t know. It’s probably more realistic than I would like to imagine.

It’s difficult to discuss the element of the book I liked least because I wouldn’t want to give any spoilers. I will say I thought the ending daft. Yet more law breaking by people who are supposed to be upholding it. And a bullshit justification this time around. As to whether it is ‘in character’ for either of the series protagonists I suppose I can’t really say as I haven’t read the last few books. I didn’t find the whole scenario very credible but perhaps I have missed some vital developments in the earlier books.

In the end I’m not sure what I achieved by diving back into this series, aside from the joy of having Saul Reichlin whispering in my ears for a few more hours. What violence there was in the story was not gratuitous which I was pleased to see and the main plot was an interesting, topical one to follow. But the preponderance of law enforcement people proving that they don’t trust the system they are meant to uphold and their actions being the direct cause of several deaths is, still, unsettling. I don’t know if leaving readers with that level of unease is the author’s own rather insidious intent or just me.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Saul Reichlin
Publisher Wholestory Audiobooks, 2017
ASIN B0741G581H
Length 13 hours 14 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #10 in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series
Source of review copy I bought it

This entry was posted in book review, England, Val McDermid. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Review: INSIDIOUS INTENT by Val McDermid

  1. rkottery says:

    It’s interesting when you are left genuinely unsure whether you are supposed to be disturbed by a book’s moral outlook or assumed – disturbingly – to share it. I wonder whether many real police officers recognise this as reality or would be scathing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That notion of what real law enforcement people would think about this is interesting…and I would even be curious to see what others think…maybe I am over sensitive at present (long story short I basically lost my job this year for refusing to do something that is at least ethically questionable and would probably be found illegal if it ever got that far).


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Hmm…I think I’d be conflicted about this one, too, Bernadette. I don’t like the idea of, especially, law enforcement people thinking it’s not a problem to break the law. And an ending that doesn’t fit with the story is one of my pet peeves. On the other hand, McDermid does tell a good story, and her characters are well-developed. Hmmm……

    Liked by 2 people

  3. kathy d. says:

    Gosh, too bad your employers didn’t see the importance of ethics. Too bad you had to pay the price for having integrity. Hope you can find a new job soon.
    Meanwhile, we enjoy the book reviews.
    I haven’t been drawn to this series because of the violence. I like the Karen Pirie series, and have enjoyed the stand-alones that I’ve seen in TV-movie version.


  4. tracybham says:

    I could only read the first book in this series and decided I did not want to risk reading more. I also have problems with policemen who break the law themselves, although I guess it depends on the circumstances. This definitely seems like it goes beyond what I could take. I will try more of the standalone books after I finish with the Karen Pirie series. I just got a copy of #2 in that series.

    I have a co-worker who was pushed out of his previous job (at a very high level) because of refusing to go along with illegal actions. I guess there are a lot of people willing to look the other way (or take the risk) for money. I am glad I was never put in that situation and hope I would make the right decision if I was.


  5. Val McDermid always seems so lovely when I see/read her being interviewed, but I don’t really get on with her books. And I think I would share your ethical problems with this one. Very sorry to hear about your personal problems in this area.


  6. unixdr1 says:

    Thanks for a great review. This book is not for me, as I despise protagonists who break the law and justify or cover up there actions. If i find myself rooting for the bad guy, an author has lost me.

    Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I expect better from my main characters. I’m not saying they have to be boy scouts or girl guides, but if they’re arrogantly breaking laws that they’re imprisoning others for, they just don’t impress me and I won’t read them.

    So thanks once more from sparing me from reading this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m beginning to think I am rather old-fashioned too…but I can’t help feeling the way I do

      McDermid is a great writer though and her standalone novels are worth checking out


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