Oh, what a darkly wondrous piece of art this is! THE RETRIBUTION is Val McDermid’s 25th novel and the seventh in her Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series, which is arguably her most famous and popular creations. Fans would be justified in expecting something special, which is precisley what her latest book is.
McDermid is well known among mystery aficionados in the United States, but deserves to have a wider recognition among literary followers of all stripes and genres. THE RETRIBUTION may well be the book that brings such benevolent notoriety to her. Tony Hill is a badly damaged criminal psychologist who is as quirky as he is brilliant. He, in his own words, occasionally does a good job of passing for a human. His work has brought him into frequent contact with Carol Jordan, a British police inspector who is stationed in northeast England and is tasked with heading up the MIT, a highly successful criminal investigative team.
"Oh, what a darkly wondrous piece of art this is! THE RETRIBUTION is Val McDermid’s 25th novel and the seventh in her Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series, which is arguably her most famous and popular creations. Fans would be justified in expecting something special, which is precisley what her latest book is."
As THE RETRIBUTION commences, the MIT is on the verge of being dismantled due to budgetary cuts, and Jordan has obtained a transfer to another station in order to take up housekeeping with Hill, with whom she has what might be called a romantic relationship. The team is handed one last case involving a series of murders of street prostitutes. At almost the same time, Hill and Jordan are left reeling by the news that Jacko Vance has escaped from prison. Vance, first introduced in THE WIRE IN THE BLOOD, is a formerly popular talk show host who was arrested, convicted and incarcerated after murdering a number of teenage girls. His escape, brilliantly planned and meticulously executed, means that no one associated with his apprehension and incarceration is safe, least of all Hill and Jordan.
Vance is an extremely frightening antagonist. In some ways, he is more chilling than Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter. While Lecter is cunning and inventive, a killer without reservation or remorse, at least he has some insight into himself, who he is and why he does what he does. Vance has no clue. He kills people because they deserve it, not because he derives any pleasure from it. Or so he says. Vance has been planning every step of his revenge for years, and he is a force of nature whose acts are writ large in claret across the British countryside. Even as Hill and Jordan attempt to apprehend one killer, they, as well as those they love, are at the mercy of another who seemingly can be stopped only by someone as evil and as cold-blooded as himself.
THE RETRIBUTION is complete from beginning to end, but concludes rather abruptly, with the sense that nothing in the series will ever be the same. There is carnage aplenty, but it's prepared and presented with suspenseful forethought. McDermid serves up suspense as no one else can; at one point, I was screaming “DON’T!” at three different characters for the same reason over the course of a couple dozen pages. One of them, alas, did not hear me.
What’s next for Hill and Jordan? That is an excellent question. Hardly anyone leaves THE RETRIBUTION intact, as that term is normally used. Maybe nothing is next. I don’t know. But there is no point in even attempting to guess. Simply enjoy being terrified and wait for what happens next.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 12, 2012