Ah, yes. This is the book that fans of the Hill and Jordan series have been anticipating for two long years. When we last saw Dr. Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan of the Metro Police in 2011’s THE RETRIBUTION, their fragile relationship had imploded as the result of the murders of Jordan’s brother and sister-in-law. CROSS AND BURN, the latest installment, begins just a few months after the events of THE RETRIBUTION. Author Val McDermid was right to linger over the book; it is enthralling and engrossing, perfect in every way.
Picture the beginning of the novel as a completed jigsaw puzzle that has been turned upside down and sideways after someone bumped the card table upon which it had been displayed. The MIT unit that Jordan had headed has been disbanded. Jordan has resigned her commission and is off the radar, living as a hermit in the barn she inherited from her brother and was thesitus of his violent demise. And Hill, still reeling from the abrupt dismantling of his somewhat dysfunctional relationship with Jordan, is living on a boat.
"Hill and Jordan, whether together or apart, are fascinating characters, and this latest installment of their lives is too good to miss --- whether you’ve been along for the ride since the beginning or just jumped on the train."
Meanwhile, Paula McIntyre is struggling to adapt to a new unit --- and commanding officer --- in her newly minted position as a detective sergeant with the Bradfield Metropolitan Police. McIntyre gets her baptism by fire when the mutilated body of a heretofore missing woman is discovered in a squatter’s flat. When another goes missing --- a friend of Jordan’s --- the investigation takes an unpleasant turn, for it seems clear that the murderer is abducting and killing women who bear a strong resemblance to Carol Jordan.
McDermid gives us intermittent glimpses into the mindset of the killer, and a chilling one it is, given that he is abducting carefully selected women in search of the perfect wife and then discarding them when they are found wanting. Hill is going through the motions of his life, continuing his practice as a clinical psychologist while missing his prior role with CID as a consulting profiler. He finds himself drawn suddenly and quite unwillingly into McIntyre’s investigation, however, when new evidence points to an all-but-impossible suspect.
McIntyre is at loose ends when her commanding officer, a very single-minded and driven individual, seems determined to take the case in what McIntyre is convinced is the entirely wrong direction. In her mind, there is only one person who can ensure that an innocent person is not wrongfully charged with the murders --- and that person is none other than Carol Jordan, who wants nothing to do with police work, even as she is drawn reluctantly back to the fold and, incidentally, to Hill. As we reach the conclusion, everything has changed once again, though how much and how far remains to be seen.
There is no good place to stop reading CROSS AND BURN. The series, seemingly all but over at the conclusion of THE RETRIBUTION, gets better and better, and enough is left hanging at the end to perhaps run through at least another book or two. Hill and Jordan, whether together or apart, are fascinating characters, and this latest installment of their lives is too good to miss --- whether you’ve been along for the ride since the beginning or just jumped on the train.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 27, 2013