The return of serial killer Jacko Vance drives McDermid’s superb seventh novel featuring Dr. Tony Hill and Det. Chief Insp. Carol Jordan of the Bradfield police (after 2010’s Fever of the Bone). Vance, the charming TV talk show host responsible for murdering 17 teenage girls in 1997’s The Wire in the Blood, manages to escape from prison just as Carol and her team are on the brink of disbanding at the behest of a new chief superintendent. Carol is also leading the murder investigation of several sex workers, each tattooed with the word mine, but it’s the hunt for Jacko that consumes her and Tony, knowing that he’ll likely direct his pentup anger at the people who helped put him away. Soon Carol’s team is working both cases and both killers are upping the ante (and the body count). The emotional wedge that the sadistic Jacko is able to drive between Tony and Carol makes this one of McDermid’s strongest efforts. 5-city author tour. Agent: Jane Gregory. (Jan.)
A chilling, utterly gripping tour de force, The Retribution is an unforgettable read.
Praise for The Retribution
“Val McDermid’s 25th novel is stunningly good, but it comes with a health warning. Not in the sense of too many detailed descriptions of violence or post mortem examinations, but in what she does in entering the mind of a wholly evil, exceptionally inventive serial killer of teenage girls. . . . Vance is a character in the exaggerated mould of the likes of Hannibal Lector and Lisbeth Salander, and his tussle with Hill and Jordan achieves grotesque, frightening proportions.”The Times (UK)
“A gripping and well-written crime thriller. If you've been following McDermid's Hill/Jordon series, this new addition won't disappoint you. And if, like me, you're new to Val McDermid's work, The Retribution is a good introduction.”Paul Davis, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“The novel’s deft prose, sprinkled with psychological insight and sparks of wit, makes it hard to turn away.”Shelf-Awareness (online)
“[McDermid’s] writing remains taut and unflinching. . . . As in all her novels, McDermid creates a brooding tension that allows readers to get close to characters whose lives are about to be ripped apart.”Danuta Kean, The Independent (UK)
“Superb. . . . The emotional wedge that the sadistic Jacko is able to drive between Tony and Carol makes this one of McDermid’s strongest efforts.”Publishers Weekly
“Val McDermid . . . has done more to establish the British variant of the serial killer than anyone elseso successfully, indeed, that everyone else’s serial killers seem pale imitations . . . . McDermid handles the multiple viewpoints of this complex narrative with assurance. She flicks from crisis to crisis, constantly misdirecting her readers. She is brilliant at sensational set-pieces . . . and Hill and Jordan have a psychological depth that's rare in crime fiction. . . . She also has the ruthless psychological scalpel that forms part of the equipment of all good novelists, whatever their genre. And, fortunately for us, she knows just how to use it.”Andrew Taylor, The Guardian (UK)
“The villain in the seventh thriller in the Tony Hill series . . . is like a slowly growing tsunami that finally spends its fury on the inhabitants of the shore. . . . As usual, McDermid shifts point-of-view deftly, moving from Jacko’s plans for escape and then retribution to Hill’s and Carol’s thoughts on how to outwit and outrun him. . . . For those who like script-like prose with shock after shock . . . McDermid is perfect.”Connie Fletcher, Booklist
“It’s perhaps fitting that for McDermid’s 25th novel she’s revisited her most thrillingly murderous creation, Jacko Vance. . . . Put away by McDermid’s crime-cracking dream teampsychological profiler Dr. Tony Hill and DCI Carol JordanVance never stopped plotting his escape. Finally, and brilliantly, in The Retribution he achieves his aim, then sets about exacting revenge on Hill and Jordan.”Henry Sutton, The Daily Mirror (UK) (four-star review)
“McDermid is such a central figure in British crime fiction that it is hard to imagine a time when she was not.”David Robinson, The Scotsman (UK)
“British author Val McDermid’s psychological thrillers are richly layered with palpable suspense and intense emotion. . . . In the strongly plotted The Retribution, McDermid returns to the partnership of crime profiler Tony Hill and detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan. . . . The Retribution moves at a brisk pace as McDermid keeps the taut plot frighteningly believable.”Oline H. Cogdill, South Florida Sun Sentinel
“McDermid has made the transition from enfant terrible to grande dame.”Nicholas Wroe, The Guardian (UK)
Read an Excerpt
Escapology was like magic. The secret lay in misdirection. Some escapes were accomplished by creating an illusion through careful planning; others were genuine feats of strength, daring and flexibility, both mental and physical; and some were mixtures of both. But whatever the methods, the element of misdirection always played a crucial role. And when it came to misdirection, he called no man his master.
Best of all was the misdirection that the onlooker didn't even know was happening. To accomplish that you had to make your diversion blend into the spectrum of normal.
Some settings made that harder than others. Take an office where everything ran like clockwork. You'd struggle to camouflage a distraction there because anything out of the ordinary would stand out and stick in people's minds. But in prison there were so many unpredictable variables – volatile individuals; complex power structures; trivial disputes that could go nuclear in a matter of moments; and pent-up frustrations never far from bursting like a ripe zit. Almost anything could go off at any time, and who could say whether it was a calculated event or just one of a hundred little local difficulties getting out of hand? The very existence of those variables made some people uneasy. But not him. For him, every alternate scenario provided a fresh opportunity, another option to scrutinise till finally he hit on the perfect combination of circumstances and characters.
He'd considered faking it. Paying a couple of the lads to get into a ruck on the wing. But there were too many downsides to that. For one thing, the more people who knew about his plans, the more prospects there were for betrayal. For another, most of the people inside were there because their previous attempts at dissimulation had failed dismally. Probably not the best people to entrust with putting on a convincing performance, then. And you could never rule out plain stupidity, of course. So faking it was out.
However, the beauty of prison was that there was never a shortage of levers to pull. Men trapped on the inside were always prey to fears of what might be going down on the outside. They had lovers, wives, kids and parents who were vulnerable to violence or temptation. Or just the threat of those things.
So he'd watched and waited, gathering data and evaluating it, figuring out where the possibilities offered the best chance of success. It helped that he didn't have to rely on his own observations. His support system beyond the walls had provided the intelligence that plugged most of the gaps in his own knowledge. It really hadn't taken long to find the perfect pressure point.
And now he was ready. Tonight he would make his move. Tomorrow night, he'd be sleeping in a wide, comfortable bed with feather pillows. The perfect end to a perfect evening. A rare steak with a pile of garlic mushrooms and rösti potatoes, perfectly complemented by a bottle of claret that would have only improved in the dozen years he'd been away. A plate of crisp Bath Olivers and a Long Clawson stilton to take away the bad taste of what passed for cheese in prison. Then a long hot bath, a glass of cognac and a Cuban Cohiba. He'd savour every gradation on the spectrum of the senses.
A jagged cacophony of raised voices penetrated his visualisation, a routine argument about football crashing back and forth across the landing. An officer roared at them to keep the noise down and it subsided a little. The distant mutter of a radio filled the gaps between the insults and it occurred to him that even better than the steak, the booze and the cigar would be the freedom from other people's noise.
That was the one thing people never mentioned when they sounded off about how awful it must be to be in prison. They talked about the discomfort, the lack of freedom, the fear of your fellow inmates, the loss of your personal comforts. But even the most imaginative never commented on the nightmare of losing silence.
Tomorrow, that nightmare would be over. He could be as quiet or as loud as he chose. But it would be his noise.
Well, mostly his. There would be other noises. Ones that he was looking forward to. Ones he liked to imagine when he needed a spur to keep going. Ones he'd been dreaming about even longer than he'd been figuring out his escape route. The screams, the sobs, the stammering pleas for mercy that would never come. The soundtrack of payback.
Jacko Vance, killer of seventeen teenage girls, murderer of a serving police officer and a man once voted the sexiest man on British TV, could hardly wait.CHAPTER 2
The big man put two brimming pints of copper-coloured ale on the table. 'Piddle in the Hole,' he said, settling his broad frame on a stool that disappeared from sight beneath his thighs.
Dr Tony Hill raised his eyebrows. 'A challenge? Or is that what passes for wit in Worcester?'
Detective Sergeant Alvin Ambrose raised his glass in a salute. 'Neither. The brewery's in a village called Wyre Piddle, so they think they're entitled.'
Tony took a long draught of his beer, then gave it a considering look. 'Fair enough,' he said. 'It's a decent pint.'
Both men gave the beer a moment's respectful silence, then Ambrose spoke. 'She's pissed my guv'nor off royally, your Carol Jordan.'
Even after all these years, Tony still struggled to keep a poker face when Carol Jordan was mentioned. It was a struggle worth maintaining, though. For one thing, he believed in never giving hostages to fortune. But more importantly, he'd always found it impossible to define what Carol meant to him and he wasn't inclined to give others the chance to jump to mistaken conclusions. 'She's not my Carol Jordan,' he said mildly. 'She's not anyone's Carol Jordan, truth be told.'
'You said she'd be sharing your house down here, if she got the job,' Ambrose said, not hiding the reproach in his voice.
A revelation Tony wished now he'd never made. It had slipped out during one of the late-night conversations that had cemented this unlikely friendship between two wary men with little in common. Tony trusted Ambrose, but that still didn't mean he wanted to admit him into the labyrinth of contradictions and complications of what passed for his emotional life. 'She already rents my basement flat. It's not so different. It's a big house,' he said, his voice noncommittal but his hand rigid on the glass.
Ambrose's eyes tightened at the corners, the rest of his face impassive. Tony reckoned the instinctive copper in him was wondering whether it was worth pursuing. 'And she's a very attractive woman,' Ambrose said at last.
'She is.' Tony tipped his glass towards Ambrose in acknowledgement. 'So why is DI Patterson so pissed off with her?'
Ambrose raised one beefy shoulder in a shrug that strained the seam of his jacket. His brown eyes lost their watchfulness as he relaxed into safe territory. 'The usual kind of thing. He's served all his career in West Mercia, most of it here in Worcester. He thought when the DCI's job came up, his feet were already tucked under the desk. Then your — then DCI Jordan made it known that she was interested in a move from Bradfield.' His smile was as twisted as the lemon peel on the rim of a cocktail glass. 'And how could West Mercia say no to her?'
Tony shook his head. 'You tell me.'
'Track record like hers? First the Met, then something mysterious with Europol, then heading up her own major crimes unit in the fourth biggest force in the country and beating the counter-terrorism twats at their own game ... There's only a handful of coppers in the whole country with her experience who still want to be at the sharp end, rather than flying a desk. Patterson knew the minute the grapevine rustled that he was dead in the water.'
'Not necessarily,' Tony said. 'Some bosses might see Carol as a threat. The woman who knew too much. They might see her as the fox in the henhouse.'
Ambrose chuckled, a deep subterranean rumble. 'Not here. They think they're the bee's knees here. They look at those mucky bastards next door in West Midlands and strut like peacocks. They'd see DCI Jordan like a prize pigeon coming home to the loft where she belongs.'
'Very poetic.' Tony sipped his beer, savouring the bitter edge of the hops. 'But that's not how your DI Patterson sees it?'
Ambrose demolished most of his pint while he worked out his response. Tony was accustomed to waiting. It was a technique that worked equally well at work or at play. He'd never figured out why the people he dealt with were called 'patients' when he was the one who had to exert all the patience. Nobody who wanted to be a competent clinical psychologist could afford to show too much eagerness when it came to seeking answers.
'It's hard for him,' Ambrose said at last. 'It's harsh, knowing you've been passed over because you're second best. So he has to come up with something that makes him feel better about himself.'
'And what's he come up with?'
Ambrose lowered his head. In the dim light of the pub, his dark skin turned him into a pool of shadow. 'He's mouthing off about her motives for moving. Like, she doesn't give a toss about West Mercia. She's just following you now you've inherited your big house and decided to shake the dust of Bradfield from your heels ...'
It wasn't his place to defend Carol Jordan's choices, but saying nothing wasn't an option either. Silence would reinforce Patterson's bitter analysis. The least Tony could do was to give Ambrose an alternative to put forward in the canteen and the squad room. 'Maybe. But I'm not the reason she's leaving Bradfield. That's office politics, nothing to do with me. She got a new boss and he didn't think her team was good value for money. She had three months to prove him wrong.' Tony shook his head, a rueful smile on his face. 'Hard to see what more she could have done. Nailed a serial killer, cleared up two cold-case murders and busted a people-trafficking operation that was bringing in kids for the sex trade.'
'I'd call that a serious clear-up rate,' Ambrose said.
'Not serious enough for James Blake. The three months is up and he's announced that he's breaking up the unit at the end of the month and scattering them through the general CID. She'd already decided she didn't want to be deployed like that. So, she knew she was leaving Bradfield. She just didn't know where she was headed. Then this West Mercia job came up, and she didn't even have to change landlords.'
Ambrose gave him an amused look and drained his glass. 'You ready for another?'
'I'm still working on this one. But it's my shout,' Tony protested as Ambrose headed back to the bar. He caught the glance the young barmaid threw in their direction, a faint frown on her soft features. He imagined they made an odd couple, him and Ambrose. A burly black man with a shaven head and a face like a heavyweight boxer, tie loosened, black suit tight over heavy muscles, Ambrose's formidable presence would have fitted most people's idea of a serious bodyguard. Whereas Tony reckoned he didn't even look capable of guarding his own body, never mind anyone else's. Medium height; slight of build; wirier than he deserved to be, given that his principal exercise came from playing Rayman's Raving Rabbids on his Wii; leather jacket, hooded sweatshirt, black jeans. Over the years, he'd learned that the only thing people remembered about him were his eyes, a startling sparkling blue, shocking against the paleness of his skin. Ambrose's eyes were memorable too, but only because they hinted at a gentleness apparent nowhere else in his demeanour. Most people missed that, Tony thought. Too taken up with the superficial image. He wondered if the barmaid had noticed.
Ambrose returned with a fresh pint. 'You off your ale tonight?'
Tony shook his head. 'I'm heading back to Bradfield.'
Ambrose looked at his watch. 'At this time? It's already gone ten o'clock.'
'I know. But there's no traffic this time of night. I can be home in less than two hours. I've got patients tomorrow at Bradfield Moor. Last appointments before I hand them over to someone I hope will treat them like the damaged messes they are. Going at night's a lot less stressful. Late-night music and empty roads.'
Ambrose chuckled. 'Sounds like a country music song.'
'I sometimes feel like my whole life is a country music song,' Tony grumbled. 'And not one of the upbeat ones.' As he spoke, his phone began to ring. He frantically patted his pockets, finally tracking it down in the front pocket of his jeans. He didn't recognise the mobile number on the screen, but gave it the benefit of the doubt. If the staff at Bradfield Moor were having problems with one of his nutters, they sometimes used their own phones to call him. 'Hello?' he said, cautious.
'Is that Dr Hill? Dr Tony Hill?' It was a woman's voice, tickling at the edge of his memory but not quite falling into place.
'Who is this?'
'It's Penny Burgess, Dr Hill. From the Evening Sentinel Times. We've spoken before.'
Penny Burgess. He recalled a woman in a trench coat, collar turned up against the rain, face arranged in a tough expression, long dark hair escaping from its confines. He also recalled how he'd been variously transformed in the stories under her byline, from omniscient sage to idiot scapegoat. 'Rather less than you'd have your readers believe,' he said.
'Just doing my job, Dr Hill.' Her voice was a lot warmer than their history merited. 'There's been another woman murdered in Bradfield,' she continued. She was about as good at small talk as he was, Tony thought, trying to avoid the wider implications of her words. When he failed to respond, she said, 'A sex worker. Like the two last month.'
'I'm sorry to hear that,' Tony said, choosing his words like steps in a minefield.
'Why I'm ringing you ... My source tells me this one has the same signature as the previous two. I'm wondering what you make of that?'
'I've no idea what you're talking about. I've currently got no operational involvement with Bradfield CID.'
Penny Burgess made a low sound in her throat, almost a chuckle but not quite. 'I'm sure your sources are at least as good as mine,' she said. 'I can't believe DCI Jordan is out of the loop on this one, and if she knows, you know.'
'You've got a very strange notion of my world,' Tony said firmly. 'I have no idea what you're talking about.'
'I'm talking about a serial killer, Dr Hill. And when it comes to serial killers, you're the man.'
Abruptly, Tony ended the call, shoving his phone back in his pocket. He raised his eyes to meet Ambrose's assessing gaze. 'Hack,' he said. He swallowed a mouthful of beer. 'Actually, no. She's better than that. Carol's crew have left her with egg all over her face more than once, but she just acts like that's an occupational hazard.'
'All the same ...' Ambrose said.
Tony nodded. 'Right. You can respect them without being willing to give them anything.'
'What was she after?'
'She was fishing. We've had two street prostitutes killed in Bradfield over the last few weeks. Now there's a third. As far as I was aware, there was no reason to connect the first two – completely different MO.' He shrugged. 'Well, I say that, but I know nothing officially. Not Carol's cases, and even if they were, she doesn't share.'
'But your hack's saying something different?'
'She says there's a signature connection. But it's still nothing to do with me. Even if they decide they need a profile, it won't be me they come to.'
'Stupid bastards. You're the best there is.'
Tony finished his drink. 'That may well be true. But as far as James Blake is concerned, staying in-house is cheaper and it means he keeps control.' A wry smile. 'I can see his point. If I was him, I probably wouldn't employ me either. More trouble than it's worth.' He pushed back from the table and stood up. 'And on that cheerful note, I'm off up the motorway.'
'Is there not a part of you that wishes you were out there at that crime scene?' Ambrose drained his second pint and got to his feet, deliberately standing back so he didn't loom over his friend.
Tony considered. 'I won't deny that the people who do this kind of thing fascinate me. The more disturbed they are, the more I want to figure out what makes them tick. And how I can help them to make the mechanism function a bit better.' He sighed. 'But I am weary of looking at the end results. Tonight, Alvin, I'm going home to bed, and believe me, there's nowhere I'd rather be.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Retribution"
Copyright © 2011 Val McDermid.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.