Tag Archives: British mystery

Dear Val McDermid,

The Torment of Others

I’m writing to thank you for The Torment of Others and The Place of Execution,two novels that are examples of what a dexterous and imaginative writer

A Place of Execution

can do within the grim parameters of the crime novel. We’re familiar with the metaphor of mystery writer as spider, weaver of a web designed to draw in readers and hold us ensnared until, breathless and sleepless, we turn that last page. Well, in The Torment of Others you’re a super-spider, weaving at least two webs, one super-imposed on the other, forcing your reader to straddle strands to see how she missed that clue cleverly concealed in the first web that landed her hopelessly tangled in the second. There seem to be at least two sadistic killers for clinical psychologist Tony Hill and Deputy Chief Inspector Carol Jordan and her team to unmask and arrest. These psychopaths appear to be torturing and killing prostitutes in two different time frames and require two separate but simultaneous investigations. Tony and Carol are admirable with enough personal quirks to be entirely credible, but the team they work with includes a few folks I wouldn’t want to count on to have my back. In another example of your superb plotting, team members turn out to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Their machinations comprise a third web, just as deceptive to the hapless reader as the others. The resulting riddle makes a thrillingly acrobatic read that left me full of admiration for your plotting, your believable characters, and your descriptive prowess. Bravo super-spider! You got me again.

Spider and Web

Police Dog Tracking in UK

A Place of Executionis another of your novels featuring strands of separate crimes interwoven in overlapping webs of complexity that kept this

Brando in On the Waterfront

reader up way past her bedtime. In one especially grim and exacting scene police dogs search for clues that might lead them to Alison, the missing girl. Years ago that scene led an admiring reader at a conference where you spoke to ask, “How many weeks did you spend researching those police dogs?” I was in that audience and I’ve never forgotten your reply. “Part of an afternoon. I’m a fiction writer. We make stuff up.” Your words were a reminder I needed. I was researching homing pigeons and their breeders in Hoboken for Hot on the Trail, but I’d failed to gain access to the xenophobic pigeon aficionados’ meeting place. Pissed off and emboldened by your declaration, in a Martha meets Marlon meets McDermid moment, I made up a clubhouse.

One more thing. Many of your books include gay and lesbian characters, but in The Torment of Others you make a lesbian the sadistic killer. I was raised to believe that my

Not Resting in Peace

slightest lapse in behavior or personal hygiene would reflect badly on all Jews, further endangering us in a world ever ready to believe the worst of us. And I still have second thoughts about making a member of any historically persecuted group, especially my own, serve as one of my criminals. Your example made it easier for me to create a murderous Jew in The Bones and the Book even as my parents, anxious still, flip over and over in their graves.

Thank you for your exemplary and chilling novels and for your succinct reminder of what fiction writers do.


Jane Isenberg


Filed under feminist fiction, mystery, Uncategorized