“Fine, intelligent, griping.” The New York Times
“A superb psychological thriller.” Cosmopolitan
“Shocking...stunningly exciting, horrifyingly good.” Ruth Rendell
Across the country, dozens of teenage girls have vanished. Authorities are convinced they're runaways with just the bad luck of the draw to connect them. It's the job of criminal profilers Dr. Tony Hill and Carol Jordan to look for a pattern. They've spent years exploring the psyches of madmen. But sane men kill, too. And when they hide in plain sight, they can be… See more details below
Across the country, dozens of teenage girls have vanished. Authorities are convinced they're runaways with just the bad luck of the draw to connect them. It's the job of criminal profilers Dr. Tony Hill and Carol Jordan to look for a pattern. They've spent years exploring the psyches of madmen. But sane men kill, too. And when they hide in plain sight, they can be difficult to find...
He's handsome and talented, rich and famous--a notorious charmer with the power to seduce...and the will to destroy. No one can believe what he's capable of. No one can imagine what he's already done. And no one can fathom what he's about to do next. Until one of Hill's students is murdered--the first move in a sick and violent game for three players. Now, of all the killers Hill and Jordan have hunted, none has been so ruthless, so terrifyingly clever, and so brilliantly elusive as the killer who's hunting them...
Val McDermid's Wire in the Blood is "A superb psychological thriller" (Cosmopolitan).
“Fine, intelligent, griping.” The New York Times
“A superb psychological thriller.” Cosmopolitan
“Shocking...stunningly exciting, horrifyingly good.” Ruth Rendell
Tony Hill lay in bed and watched a long strip of cloud slide across a sky the colour of duck eggs. If anything had sold him on this narrow back-to-back terraced house, it was the attic bedroom with its strange angles and the pair of skylights that gave him something to look at when sleep was elusive. A new house, a new city, a new start, but still it was hard to lose consciousness for eight hours at a stretch.
It wasn’t surprising that he hadn’t slept well. Today was the first day of the rest of his life, he reminded himself with a wry smile that scrunched the skin round his deep-set blue eyes into a nest of wrinkles that not even his best friend could call laughter lines. He’d never laughed enough for that. And making murder his business had made sure he never would.
Work was always the perfect excuse, of course. For two years, he’d been toiling on behalf of the Home Office on a feasibility study to see whether it would be useful or possible to create a national task force of trained psychological profilers, a hit squad capable of moving in on complex cases and working with the investigative teams to improve the rate and speed of clean-up. It had been a job that had required all the clinical and diplomatic skills he’d developed over years of working as a psychologist in secure mental hospitals.
It had kept him off the wards, but it had exposed him to other dangers. The danger of boredom, for example. Tired of being stuck behind a desk or in endless meetings, he’d allowed himself to be seduced away from the job in hand by the tantalizing offer of involvement in a case that even from a distance had appeared to be something very special. Not in his wildest nightmares could he have imagined just how exceptional it could be. Nor how destructive.
He clenched his eyes momentarily against the memories that always stalked on the edge of his consciousness, waiting for him to drop his guard and let them in. That was another reason why he slept badly. The thought of what his dreams could do to him was no enticement to drift away and hand control over to his subconscious.
The cloud slipped out of sight like a slow-moving fish and Tony rolled out of bed, padding downstairs to the kitchen. He poured water into the bottom section of the coffee pot, filled the mid-section with a darkly fragrant roast from the freezer, screwed on the empty top section and set it on the gas. He thought of Carol Jordan, as he did probably one morning in three when he made the coffee. She’d given him the heavy aluminium Italian pot when he’d come home from hospital after the case was over. ‘You’re not going to be walking to the café for a while,’ she’d said. ‘At least this way you can get a decent espresso at home.’
It had been months now since he’d seen Carol. They’d not even taken the opportunity to celebrate her promotion to detective chief inspector, which showed just how far apart they’d grown. Initially, after his release from hospital, she’d come to visit whenever the hectic pace of her job would allow. Gradually, they’d both come to realize that every time they were together, the spectre of the investigation rose between them, obscuring and overshadowing whatever else might be possible for them. He understood that Carol was better equipped than most to interpret what she saw in him. He simply couldn’t face the risk of opening up to someone who might reject him when she realized how he had been infected by his work.
If that happened, he doubted his capacity to function. And if he couldn’t function, he couldn’t do his job. And that was too important to let go. What he did saved people’s lives. He was good at it, probably one of the best there had ever been because he truly understood the dark side. To risk the work would be the most irresponsible thing he could ever do, especially now when the whole future of the newly created National Offender Profiling Task Force lay in his hands.
What some people perceived as sacrifices were really dividends, he told himself firmly as he poured out his coffee. He was permitted to do the one thing he did supremely well, and they paid him money for it. A tired smile crossed his face. God, but he was lucky.
Shaz Bowman understood perfectly why people commit murder. The revelation had nothing to do with the move to a new city or the job that had brought her there, but everything to do with the cowboy plumbers who had installed the water supply when the former Victorian mill-owner’s mansion had been converted into self-contained apartments. The builders had done a thoughtful job, preserving original features and avoiding partitions that wrecked the fine proportions of the spacious rooms. To the naked eye, Shaz’s flat had been perfect, right down to the French windows leading to the back garden that was her exclusive domain.
Years of shared student dives with sticky carpets and scummy bathtubs, followed by a police section house and a preposterously expensive rented bedsit in West London had left Shaz desperate for the opportunity to check out whether house-proud was an adjective she could live with. The move north had provided her first affordable chance. But the idyll had shattered the first morning she had to rise early for work.
Bleary-eyed and semi-conscious, she’d run the shower long enough to get the temperature right. She stepped under the powerful stream of water, lifting her hands above her head in a strangely reverent gesture. Her groan of pleasure turned abruptly to a scream as the water switched from amniotic warmth to a scalding scatter of hypodermic stings. She hurled herself clear of the shower cubicle, twisting her knee as she slipped on the bathroom floor, cursing with a fluency she owed to her three years in the Met.
Speechless, she stared at the plume of steam in the corner of the bathroom where she had stood moments before. Then, as abruptly, the steam dissipated. Cautiously, she extended a hand under the water. The temperature was back where it should be. Inch by tentative inch, she moved under the stream of water. Letting out her unconsciously held breath, she reached for the shampoo. She’d got as far as the halo of white lather when the icy needles of winter rain cascaded on her bare shoulders. This time, her breath went inwards, taking enough shampoo with it to add a coughing retch to the morning’s sound effects.
It didn’t take much to work out that her ordeal was the result of someone else’s synchronous ablutions. She was supposed to be a detective, after all. But understanding didn’t make her any happier. The first day of the new job and instead of feeling calm and grounded after a long, soothing shower, she was furious and frustrated, her nerves jangling, the muscles in the nape of her neck tightening with the promise of a headache. ‘Great,’ she growled, fighting back tears that had more to do with emotion than the shampoo in them.
Shaz advanced on the shower once again and turned it off with a vicious twist of the wrist. Mouth compressed into a thin line, she started running a bath. Tranquillity was no longer an option for the day, but she still had to get the suds out of her hair so she wouldn’t arrive in the squad room of the brand new task force looking like something no self-respecting cat would have bothered to drag in. It was going to be unnerving enough without having to worry about what she looked like.
As she crouched in the bath, dunking her head forward into the water, Shaz tried to restore her earlier mood of exhilarated anticipation. ‘You’re lucky to be here, girl,’ she told herself. ‘All those dickheads who applied and you didn’t even have to fill in the form, you got chosen. Hand-picked, elite. All that shit work paid off, all that taking the crap with a smile. The canteen cowboys going nowhere fast, they’re the ones having to swallow the shit now. Not like you, Detective Constable Shaz Bowman. National Offender Profiling Task Force Officer Bowman.’ As if that wasn’t enough, she’d be working alongside the acknowledged master of that arcane blend of instinct and experience. Dr Tony Hill, BSc (London), DPhil (Oxon), the profiler’s profiler, author of the definitive British textbook on serial offenders. If Shaz had been a woman given to hero-worship, Tony Hill would have been right up there in the pantheon of her personal gods. As it was, the opportunity to pick his brains and learn his craft was one that she’d cheerfully have made sacrifices for. But she hadn’t had to give up anything. It had been dropped right into her lap.
By the time she was towelling her cap of short dark hair, considering the chance of a lifetime that lay ahead of her had tamed her anger though not her nerves. Shaz forced herself to focus on the day ahead. Dropping the towel carelessly over the side of the bath, she stared into the mirror, ignoring the blurt of freckles across her cheekbones and the bridge of her small soft nose, passing over the straight line of lips too slim to promise much sensuality and focusing on the feature that everyone else noticed first about her.
Her eyes were extraordinary. Dark blue irises were shot through with striations of an intense, paler shade that seemed to catch the light like the facets of a sapphire. In interrogation, they were irresistible. The eyes had it. That intense blue stare fixed people like superglue. Shaz had a feeling that it had made her last boss so uncomfortable he’d been delighted at the prospect of shipping her out in spite of an arrest and conviction record that would have been remarkable in an experienced CID officer, never mind the rookie of the shift.
She’d only met her new boss once. Somehow, she didn’t think Tony Hill was going to be quite so much of a pushover. And who knew what he’d see if he slid under those cold blue defences? With a shiver of anxiety, Shaz turned away from the remorseless stare of the mirror and chewed the skin on the side of her thumb.
Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan slipped the original out of the photocopier, picked up the copy from the tray and crossed the open-plan CID room to her office with nothing more revelatory than a genial, ‘Morning, lads,’ to the two early bird detectives already at their desks. She presumed they were only there at this hour because they were trying to make an impression on her. Sad boys.
She shut her door firmly behind her and crossed to her desk. The original crime report went back into the overnight file and onwards into her out tray. The photostat joined four similar previous overnight despatches in a folder that lived in her briefcase when it wasn’t sitting on her desk. Five, she decided, was critical mass. Time for action. She glanced at her watch. But not quite yet.
The only other item that cluttered the desk now was a lengthy memo from the Home Office. In the dry civil service language that could render Tarantino dull, it announced the formal launch of the National Offender Profiling Task Force. ‘Under the supervision of Commander Paul Bishop, the task force will be led by Home Office clinical psychologist and Senior Profiler Dr Tony Hill. Initially, the task force will consist of a further six experienced detectives seconded to work with Dr Hill and Commander Bishop under Home Office guidelines.’
Carol sighed. ‘It could have been me. Oh yeah, it could have been me,’ she sang softly. She hadn’t been formally invited. But she knew all she’d have had to do was ask. Tony Hill had wanted her on the squad. He’d seen her work at close quarters and he’d told her more than once that she had the right cast of mind to help him make the new task force effective. But it wasn’t that simple. The one case they’d worked together had been personally devastating as well as difficult for both of them. And her feelings for Tony Hill were still too complicated for her to relish the prospect of becoming his right-hand woman in other cases that might become as emotionally draining and intellectually challenging as their first encounter.
Nevertheless, she’d been tempted. Then this had come along. Early promotion in a newly created force wasn’t an opportunity she felt she could afford to miss. The irony was that this chance had emerged from the same serial killer hunt. John Brandon had been the Assistant Chief Constable at Bradfield who’d had the nerve to bring in Tony Hill and to appoint Carol liaison officer. And when he was promoted to Chief Constable of the new force, he wanted her on board. His timing couldn’t have been better, she thought, a faint pang of regret surfacing in spite of herself. She stood up and took the three steps that were all she needed to cross her office and stare down at the docks below where people moved around purposefully doing she knew not what.
Carol had learned the Job first with the Met in London and then with Bradfield Metropolitan Police, both leviathans fuelled by the perpetual adrenaline high of inner city crime. But now she was out on the edge of England with East Yorkshire Police where, as her brother Michael had wryly pointed out, the force’s acronym was almost identical to the traditional Yorkshire yokel greeting of ‘Ey-up’. Here, the DCI’s job didn’t involve juggling murder inquiries, drive-by shootings, gang wars, armed robberies and high-profile drug deals.
In the towns and villages of East Yorkshire, there wasn’t any shortage of crime. But it was all low-level stuff. Her inspectors and sergeants were more than capable of dealing with it, even in the small cities of Holm and Traskham and the North Sea port of Seaford where she was based. Her junior officers didn’t want her running around on their tails. After all, what did a city girl like her know about sheep rustling? Or counterfeit cargo lading bills? Besides which, they all knew perfectly well that when the new DCI turned up on the job, she wasn’t so much interested in finding out what was going down as she was in sussing out who was up to scratch and who was busking it, who might be on the sauce and who might be on the take. And they were right. It was taking longer than she’d anticipated, but she was gradually assembling a picture of what her team was like and who was capale of what.
Carol sighed again, rumpling her shaggy blonde hair with the fingers of one hand. It was an uphill struggle, not least because most of the blunt Yorkshiremen she was working with were fighting a lifetime’s conditioning to take a woman guv’nor seriously. Not for the first time, she wondered if ambition had shoved her into a drastic mistake and backed her flourishing career into a cul-de-sac.
She shrugged and turned away from the window, then pulled out the file from her briefcase again. She might have opted to turn her back on the profiling task force, but working with Tony Hill had already taught her a few tricks. She knew what a serial offender’s signature looked like. She just hoped she didn’t need a team of specialists to track one down.
One half of the double doors swung open momentarily ahead of the other. A woman with a face instantly recognizable in 78 per cent of UK homes (according to the latest audience survey) and high heels that shouted the praises of legs which could have modelled pantyhose strode into the make-up department, glancing over her shoulder and saying, ‘. . . which gives me nothing to work off, so tell Trevor to swap two and four on the running order, OK?’
Betsy Thorne followed her, nodding calmly. She looked far too wholesome to be anything in TV, dark hair with irregular strands of silver swept back in a blue velvet Alice band from a face that was somehow quintessentially English; the intelligent eyes of a sheepdog, the bones of a thoroughbred racehorse and the complexion of a Cox’s Orange Pippin. ‘No problem,’ she said, her voice every degree as warm and caressing as her companion’s. She made a note on the clipboard she was carrying.
Micky Morgan, presenter and only permissible star of Midday with Morgan, the flagship two-hour lunchtime news magazine programme of the independent networks, carried straight ahead to what was clearly her usual chair. She settled in, pushed her honey blonde hair back and gave her face a quick critical scrutiny in the glass as the make-up artist swathed her in a protective gown. ‘Marla, you’re back!’ Micky exclaimed, delight in her voice and eyes in equal measure. ‘Thank God. I’m praying you’ve been out of the country so you didn’t have to look at what they do to me when you’re not here. I absolutely forbid you to go on holiday again!’
Marla smiled. ‘Still full of shit, Micky.’
‘It’s what they pay her for,’ Betsy said, perching on the counter by the mirror.
‘Can’t get the staff these days,’ Micky said through stiff lips as Marla started to smooth foundation over her skin. ‘Zit coming up on the right temple,’ she added.
‘Premenstrual?’ Marla asked.
‘I thought I was the only one who could spot that a mile off,’ Betsy drawled.
‘It’s the skin. The elasticity changes,’ Marla said absently, completely absorbed in her task.
‘Talking Point,’ Micky said. ‘Run it past me again, Bets.’ She closed her eyes to concentrate and Marla seized the chance to work on her eyelids.
Betsy consulted her clipboard. ‘In the wake of the latest revelations that yet another junior minister has been caught in the wrong bed by the tabloids, we ask, “What makes a woman want to be a mistress?” ’ She ran through the guests for the item while Micky listened attentively. Betsy came to the final interviewee and smiled. ‘You’ll enjoy this: Dorien Simmonds, your favourite novelist. The professional mistress, putting the case that actually being a mistress is not only marvellous fun but a positive social service to all those put-upon wives who have to endure marital sex long after he bores them senseless.’
Val McDermid was a journalist for sixteen years and is now a full-time writer living in South Manchester. In 1995, she won the Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year for The Mermaids Singing. Her novel A Place of Execution won a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel, and named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
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