It turns out that Fever of the Bone is the sixth novel in a series featuring profiler Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan, but it is my first experience of Val McDermid. As often happens when you dip into a series in the wrong order, much time is spent just working out who is who and deciphering the references to earlier books, but it is to McDermid’s credit that Fever of the Bone doesn’t suffer from being read out of context.
There is a lot of plot in Fever of the Bone, but the main narrative focuses on the deaths of seemingly unconnected teenagers in and around the fictional town of Bradfield. The young people have been groomed on a social networking site called RigMarole, before being lured into a meeting with their killer. Carol and Tony are also facing their own pressures as Carol’s new boss wants to crack down on her reliance upon Tony as a profiler and also wants her team to prove its worth. Tony is trying to come to terms with the death of the father he never knew and the ensuing inheritance he has received and Jordan’s team are under pressure to solve a cold case relating to a missing mother and child who vanished over a decade ago.
With all these narrative strands vying for attention things could get messy, but this is very much a story about parents and children and the overarching theme brings a coherence to the plot and allows different narratives to echo and influence each other. While the murders are gruesome (and involve genital mutilation), more time is spent exploring with subtlety the devastating impact of the loss on the parents. We spend some time with the teenagers before their murders, which gives the reader an insight into what has been lost, what has been taken and shows the human side of the police investigation. While Carol tries to find out why Tony’s father stayed out of his life, Tony himself is attempting to reconcile the idea he has had of his father with the reality he is uncovering. There is an exploration of the idea of what we pass on to our children and what makes us who we are that is prevalent through all the narrative strands and it ties in perfectly with the Christie-esque revelations that come at the end of the book.
McDermid is also good at striking the right note in her depiction of the teenagers and in her imaginary social media site RigMarole, which seems to be an amalgamation of Facebook, SnapChat and Twitter. Given the fears around who children are talking to online and what they are sharing on these kind of sites, it is a prescient and frighteningly believable premise.
Hill and Jordan clearly have a ‘will they won’t they’ relationship that has been built upon in the previous books and the pressure they are under individually appears to amplify and confuse their feelings. There is a cliff-hanger at the end, but it is of the emotional kind and it will be interesting to see how Tony, Carol and McDermid solve it.
To weave together so many plot strands without sacrificing suspense is no easy task and McDermid pulls it off for the most part. I personally found the opening chapters of the book slightly confusing due to the sheer number of characters being introduced (two police forces are depicted throughout the story) but that could also be down to the fact that I have not read the previous five books and so don’t have any knowledge or back story to start with. Although some sections flagged a little – particularly the cold case Carol’s team are working on – there was enough interest in the detailed characterisation, the unusual murders and the intriguing relationships to keep the pages turning at a brisk pace.
Have any of you read more of this series? Would I have been better to read in order?
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