The Barnes & Noble Review
Val McDermid has earned the attention of discriminating mystery fans on both sides of the Atlantic as a powerfully gifted author best known for her Edgar-nominated A Place of Execution.
Killing the Shadows is her intelligent, highly original reflection on a social -- and literary -- phenomenon: the serial killer. McDermid's heroine, Fiona Cameron, is a criminal psychologist haunted by the memory of her sister's unsolved murder. Fiona works as both a teacher and a freelance police consultant specializing in "geographical profiles" and establishing "linkages" between supposedly independent acts of violence. As Killing the Shadows opens, she finds herself caught up in three ongoing investigations. The first involves the hunt for a serial murderer in Toledo, Spain. The second centers on a controversial unsolved sex crime that took place in London's Hampstead Heath. The third concerns a series of "literary" murders in which several bestselling thriller writers have been singled out as victims and have been murdered in ways that replicate the content of their own most popular novels.
Since Fiona's lover, Kit Martin, is one of Britain's most prominent thriller writers, she finds herself personally involved in a bizarre, unprecedented series of crimes. By the time three well-known novelists have met their grisly ends, she becomes convinced that Kit could be the next logical target. Her desperate attempts to identify the killer and preserve her lover's life form the central elements of this colorful, convoluted narrative.
Occasionally, Killing the Shadows strains credibility in ways that A Place of Execution never does. There is simply too much going on in this book, and the ultimate rationale behind the central series of murders fails, somewhat, to convince. Even so, McDermid writes with vigor and assurance, and her easy familiarity with a number of arcane subjects -- such as recent technological advances in criminal profiling, and the social dynamics of Britain's insular crime-writing community -- is engaging and thoroughly believable. The result is an uneven, occasionally brilliant book by a talented writer whose novels -- even the lesser ones -- are well worth reading. (Bill Sheehan)
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, won the International Horror Guild's award for best nonfiction book of 2000.
New York Times Book Review
There is no one in contemporary crime fiction who has managed to combine the visceral and the humane as well...
Washington Post Book World
Smart...skillfully executed...nasty and delicious. McDermid tells this wicked tale with style, intelligence and the blackest of humor.
Though McDermid skillfully alternates point of view and creates memorable scenes and complex characters, her latest falls short of the high standard set by her previous novel, A Place of Execution, which was an Edgar finalist. Psychology professor Fiona Campbell, a consultant with London's Metropolitan Police, specializes in crime linkage and geographical profiling using sophisticated computer technology. The competitive, self-confident Fiona was recently replaced on a case by another expert, who ended up misleading the police; their suspect, whom Fiona had thought innocent, was eventually released. While Fiona is working with the Spanish police to catch a vicious murderer, a new situation comes to light back in the U.K.: the serial killings of successful thriller writers who are threatened, then murdered following details from their most popular novel. Fiona lives with Kit Martin, author of you guessed it popular thrillers about serial killers. Their best friend, Det. Superintendent Steve Preston, needs Fiona's help in yet another investigation. Initially, she refuses to resume working with the police, but the personal dimensions draw her in. After much misdirection, the cases mesh, with a Spanish connection. McDermid builds suspense by inserting passages from the thriller novels, e-mails, crime Web sites and the killer's journal. Unfortunately, the killer's motive is somewhat unconvincing, while the reader can anticipate most of the plot twists. Nonetheless, given the acclaim for A Place of Execution, expect strong sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
McDermid takes a great premise and turns it into a thoroughly engaging psychological thriller: the writers of serial murder fiction become the victims of a copycat killer who models his crimes on their work. This puzzle is well intertwined with two other major cases facing our heroine, Dr. Fiona Cameron, an academic psychologist who tracks serial offenders through computer technology that focuses on geographical patterns. The crime spree becomes personal as Fiona's partner Kit Martin is one of the writers targeted. The author's use of clues hidden from her characters adds to the tension without cheating the well-paced execution of the mystery. Vari Sylvester carries that tension very capably in her reading. Rather graphic at times, this is a book for adult audiences only. Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"There is no one in contemporary crime fiction who has managed to combine the visceral and the humane as well..."The New York Times Book Review
"Smart...skillfully executed...nasty and delicious. McDermid tells this wicked tale with style, intelligence and the blackest of humor."Washington Post Book World
"Nerve-jangling...a gripping read...heart-stopping suspense."Booklist
Read an Excerpt
Dr Fiona Cameron stood on the very lip of Stanage Edge and leaned forward into the wind. The only kind of sudden death she might have to contemplate here would be her own, and then only if she was more careless than she thought she could manage. But just supposing for a moment she lost concentration on the wet millstone grit, she'd plunge down thirty or forty helter-skelter feet, her body bouncing like a plastic doll on the jutting blocks of rock, bones and skin broken and violated.
She'd end up looking like a victim.
No way, Fiona thought, letting the wind push her back from the edge just far enough to take the danger out of her position. Not here of all places. This was the place of pilgrimage, the place where she came to remind herself of all the reasons why she was who she was. Always alone, she returned here three or four times a year, whenever the need grew in her to touch the face of her memories. The company of another living, breathing human would be impossible to bear up on this bleak stretch of moorland. There was only room for the two of them; Fiona and her ghost, that other half of herself who only ever walked beside her on these moors.
It was strange, she thought. There were so many other places where she'd spent far more time with Lesley. But everywhere else was somehow marred by the consciousness of other voices, other lives. Here, though, she could sense Lesley without interference. She could see her face, open in laughter, or closed in concentration as she negotiated a tricky scramble. She could hear her voice, earnest with confidences or loud with the excitement of achievement. She almost believed she could smell the faint musk of her skin as they huddled together over a picnic.
Here, more than anywhere, Fiona recognized the light she had lost from her life. She closed her eyes and let her mind create the picture. Her mirror image, that same chestnut hair and hazel eyes, that same arc of the eyebrows, that same nose. Everyone had always marvelled at the resemblance. Only their mouths were different; Fiona's wide and full-lipped, Lesley's a small cupid's bow, her bottom lip fuller than the upper.
Here, too, the discussions had been had, the decision taken that had ultimately led to Lesley being wrenched from her life. This was the place of final reproach, the place where Fiona could never forget what her life lacked.
Fiona felt her eyes watering. She snapped them open and let the wind provide the excuse. The time for vulnerability was over. She was here, she reminded herself, to get away from victims. She looked out across the brown bracken of Hathersage Moor to the clumsy thumb of Higger Tor and beyond, turning back to watch a wedge of rain drench one end of Bamford Moor. In this wind, she had twenty minutes before it reached the Edge, she reckoned, rolling her shoulders to shift her backpack to a more comfortable position. Time to make a move.
An early train from King's Cross then a connection to a local train had brought her to Hathersage just after ten. She'd made good time on the steep hike up to High Neb, enjoying the stretch in her muscles, savouring the bunching of her calves and the tautness of her quads. The final scramble that brought her to the northern end of Stanage had left her short of breath and she'd leaned against the rock, taking a long drink from her water bottle before she set off along the flat slabs of gritstone. The connection to her past had grounded her more firmly than anything else she knew. And the wind at her back had exhilarated her, setting her thoughts loose from the jumbled knot of irritation that had woken her. She'd known then that she had to get out of London for the day or else accept that by evening her shoulders would be a tight plane sending waves of pain up her neck and across her head.
The only appointment in her diary had been a supervision meeting with one of her PhD students, and that had been easily rearranged with a phone call from the train. Up here on the moors, no tabloid hack could find her, no camera crew could thrust their equipment into her face and demand to know what Candid Cameron had to say about the day's courtroom events.
Of course, she couldn't be certain that things would turn out in line with her expectations. But when she'd heard on last night's news that the sensational trial of the Hampstead Heath Killer was still on hold after a second day of legal arguments, all her instincts told her that by the end of today, the red-top brigade would be screaming for blood. And she was the perfect weapon for them to use to draw that blood from the police. Better to keep well out of it, for all sorts of reasons.
She'd never courted publicity for the work she'd done with the police, but it had dogged her regardless. Fiona hated to see her face splashed across the newspapers nearly as much as her colleagues resented it. What was almost worse than the loss of privacy was that her notoriety had somehow diminished her as an academic. Now when she published in journals and contributed to books, she knew her work was scrutinized with more scepticism than before, simply because she had applied her skills and knowledge in a practical way that met with pursed lips of disapproval among the purists.
The silent condemnation had only grown harsher when one of the tabloids had revealed that she was living with Kit Martin. It was hard to imagine who, in the eyes of the academic establishment, could have been a less respectable partner for an academic psychologist engaged in developing scientific methods that would help police to catch repeat offenders than the country's leading writer of serial killer thrillers. If Fiona had cared enough about what her peers thought of her, she might have bothered to explain that it was not Kit's novels she was in love with but the man who wrote them, and that the very nature of his work had made her more cautious about starting the relationship than she might otherwise have been. But since no one dared challenge her to her face, she chose not to leap into the trap of self-justification.
At the thought of Kit, her sadness shifted. That she had found the one man who could save her from the prison of her introspection was a blessing she never ceased to find miraculous. The world might never see behind the tough-guy charm he turned on in public, but beyond his sharp-edged intelligence, she had discovered generosity, respect and a sensitivity she'd all but given up hope of ever finding. With Kit, she had finally arrived at a kind of peace that mostly kept the demons of Stanage Edge at bay.
As she strode on, she glanced at her watch. She'd made good time. If she kept up her pace, she'd have time for a drink in the Fox House pub before the bus that would carry her back down into Sheffield for the London train. She'd have had five hours in the open, five hours when she had seen scarcely another human being, and that was enough to sustain her. Until the next time, she thought grimly.
* * *
The train was quieter than she'd expected. Fiona had a double seat to herself, and the man opposite her was asleep within ten minutes of leaving Sheffield, allowing her space to spread herself over the whole of the table between them. That was fine by her since she had more than enough work to occupy the journey. She had an arrangement with the landlord of a pub a few minutes' walk from the station. He looked after her mobile phone and her laptop when she was out walking in exchange for signed first editions of Kit's books. It was safer than the left-luggage facilities at the station and certainly cheaper.
Fiona flipped open her laptop and attached it to her mobile so she could collect her e-mail. A message appeared on her screen announcing she had five new pieces of mail. She downloaded them then disconnected. There were two messages from students, and one from a colleague in Princeton writing to ask if he could have access to some data she had collected on solved rape cases. Nothing there that couldn't wait till morning. She opened the fourth message, from Kit.
|From: ||Kit Martin <KMWriter@trashnet.com> |
|To: ||Fiona Cameron <email@example.com> |
|Subject: ||Dinner tonight |
Hope you've had a good day on the hill. I've been productive, 2,500 words by teatime.
Things turned out at the Bailey just like you said they would. Trust that female intuition! (only joking, I know yours was a considered judgement based on weighing up all the scientific evidence ...) Anyway, I reckoned Steve would need cheering up, so I've arranged to meet him for dinner. We're going to St John's in Clerkenwell to eat lots of dead animal so you probably don't fancy joining us, but if you want to, that'd be great. If not, I made a salmon and asparagus risotto for lunch, and there's plenty left over in the fridge for you for dinner. Love you.
Fiona smiled. Typical Kit. As long as everyone was fed, nothing too terrible could go wrong with the world. She wasn't surprised Steve needed cheering up. No police officer relished watching a case fall apart, especially one that had such a high public profile as the Hampstead Heath murder. But for Detective Superintendent Steve Preston, the collapse of this particular case would have left a more bitter taste than most. Fiona knew only too well how much had been at stake in this prosecution, and while she felt personal sympathy for Steve, all she felt for the Metropolitan Police was that it served them bloody well right.
She clicked open the next message, having saved the most intriguing for last.
|From: ||Salvador Berrocal <firstname.lastname@example.org> |
|To: ||Dr Fiona Cameron <email@example.com> |
|Subject: ||Consultation request |
Dear Dr Cameron
I am a Major in the plain-clothes division of the Cuerpo Nacional de Policia based in Madrid. I am in charge of many homicide inquiries. Your name has been given to me by a colleague at New Scotland Yard as an expert in crime linkage and geographic profiling. Please forgive the intrusion of contacting you so directly. I am writing to ask if you would do us the courtesy of providing your services to consult in a matter of great urgency. In Spain we have a little experience with serial killers and so we have no psychological experts to work with policemen.
In Toledo have been two murders inside three weeks and we think they are the crimes of one man. But it is wholly not obvious that they are connected and we need a different expertise to assist us with the analysis of these crimes. I understand that you have experience in the area of crime analysis and linkage, and this would be of great use to us, I think.
I wish to know if in principle you are willing to help us with resolving these murders. You may be assured of proper remuneration for this consultation if you will be our assistant.
I look forward to hearing your response.
Major Salvador Berrocal
Cuerpo Nacional de Policia
Fiona folded her arms and stared at the screen. She knew that behind this cautious request lay a pair of bodies that had almost certainly been mutilated and probably tortured before death. There was likely to be some element of sexual violation in the attacks. She could assume this with some degree of certainty, for police forces were well capable of dealing with routine murders without calling on the specialist help that only she and a handful of others could be relied on to provide. When new acquaintances discovered this aspect of Fiona's work, they usually shuddered and asked how she could bear to be involved in such appalling cases.
Her typical response was to shrug and say, `Somebody has to do it. Better it's somebody like me who knows what she's doing. Nobody can bring back the dead but sometimes it's possible to prevent more of the living joining them.'
It was, she knew, a glib riposte, carefully calculated to deflect further questioning. The truth was she hated the inevitable confrontation with violent death that her work with various police forces had brought into her life, not least because of the memories it stirred in her. She knew more about what could be inflicted on the human body, more about the sufferings the spirit could sustain than she had ever wished to. But such exposure was inescapable and because it always exacted a heavy toll from her, she only ever accepted a new assignment when she felt sufficiently recovered from her last direct encounter with the victims of a serial killer.
It had been almost four months since Fiona had worked a murder series. A man had killed four prostitutes in Merseyside over a period of eighteen months. Thanks in part to the data analysis that Fiona and one of her graduate students had completed, the police had been able to narrow down their pool of suspects to the point where forensic detection could be applied. Now they had a man in custody charged with three of the four killings, and thanks to DNA matches they were reasonably sure of a conviction.
Since then, her only police consultation project had been a long-term study of recidivist burglars with the Swedish Police. It was, she thought, time to get her hands dirty again. She hit the <reply> key.
|From: ||Fiona Cameron <firstname.lastname@example.org> |
|To: ||Salvador Berrocal <email@example.com> |
|Subject: ||Re: Consultation request |
Dear Major Berrocal
Thank you for your invitation to act as consultant to the Cuerpo Nacional de Policia. In principle, I am willing to consider your request favourably. However, before I can be certain that I can be of use to you, I need more detail than you have provided in your e-mail. Ideally, I would like to see an outline of the circumstances of both murders, a digest of the pathology reports and any witness statements. I am reasonably competent in written Spanish, so in the interests of speed, you need not have these documents translated for my benefit. Of course, any communications I receive from you will be treated in complete confidence.
For the sake of security, I suggest you fax these documents to my home.
Fiona typed in the details of her home fax and phone then sent the e-mail. At best, she'd be able to contribute to the prevention of more murders and acquire useful data for her researches in the process. At worst, she'd have a valid excuse for staying out of the way of the fallout from the Hampstead Heath trial collapse. Someone or rather a couple of Spanish someones had paid a high price to keep Candid Cameron out of the headlines.
Excerpted from Killing the Shadows by Val Mcdermid. Copyright © 2000 by Val McDermid. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.