Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb
There’s a seriously twisted serial killer stalking his teen victims through an interpersonal meeting and blogging site, Rigmarole. He uses doubled initials as his alias, like ZZ, KK, and JJ, and threatens to reveal some dark secret about each of his victims, one that only he knows, and which would be devastating if the world knew about it. But, as Dr. Tony Hill and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan discover in Val McDermid’s sixth installment in her series featuring the duo, the murderer is not a pedophile out for kicks. He has other reasons, cold and twisted ones, despite his denial to the contrary:
Not that you take any pleasure in the killing itself. That would be twisted. And you’re not twisted. There’s a reason for what you’re doing. This is about healing your life. This is about you needing to do this so you can feel better.
Dr. Hill is a loner with a damaged past, raised by an uncaring, hostile mother, and seemingly abandoned by his rich father. His upbringing is the perfect recipe for becoming a serial killer, and he shares some of their traits–but he’s turned his talents at criminal profiling to tracking down serial killers, instead of potential victims. Carol, the ambitious and dedicated leader of the Bradfield Metropolitan Police’s Major Incident Team, rents Hill’s basement flat. There’s definite chemistry between the two, but Hill is afraid of commitment and he has told Carol of his problem with impotence. Still, the two are close, and Carol has used Dr. Hill’s considerable skills several times in the past to help catch murderers and to close cold cases.
Besides trying to catch a killer before he strikes again, the two are struggling with their own emotional baggage and psychological scars. Carol is becoming a little too reliant on using alcohol as a crutch to deal with the pressures of her job and the insecurities in her life. Tony’s childhood was a mess, as I’ve previously alluded to, and he’s hit with the news that his father’s passed away, leaving him a substantial sum of money and a mansion which he intends to sell. He’s become a wealthy man overnight, which should be enough to make most people happy; but, Carol’s new boss, Chief Constable James Blake, thinks Hill’s only gotten the job helping Carol solve cases because they’re banging boots with each other. Blake wants Carol’s Cold Case task force disbanded, and for policemen trained in forensic psychology to take over the brunt of the cases. The irony is that Hill is one of the main psychologists who has been training the very policemen whom Blake wants to use to replace him with.
Carol Jordan has three months to prove the worth of her task force, or it will be disbanded. She believes Blake has already made up his mind, and intends to disband it regardless of how well they do, but finding the killer of the murdered and mutilated teens, and solving a cold case or two, would go far to swaying Blake’s decision, assuming it hasn’t yet been made, so Jordan wants to go all out in the scant time she has left.
Fourteen-year-old Jennifer Maidment is the killer’s first victim. She is a nice girl, who never has gotten into trouble before. She never goes anywhere without telling then where she’s going. But, she makes up a story to tell her best friend when she gets off the school bus. She says she needs to get some supplies to make a cake for her dad, who is returning from India where he’s been on business. Her body is found in the pouring rain, slashed open much like Jack the Ripper’s victims, sexually mutilated, asphyxiated with a plastic bag over her head. She’s just the first on the killer’s list.
Fever of the Bone is a page-turning, suspenseful novel that’s hard to put down. Though a part of a series, it can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel. The exploration of a serial killer’s mind and motivations is fascinating, but almost equally so are McDermid’s explorations of the complicated relationship between Dr. Hill and Carol, and getting a fly eye’s view of the dynamics of the murdered teens’ families. I also found it very interesting to know that Rigmarole is an actual site in England, that Val McDermid created. I don’t believe it’s available here yet, but I ‘ve read that people who are members of it can interact with the characters in the novel online. When and if it ever becomes available in America, I am betting that it will be a huge success. Until then, if you love reading complex psychological thrillers, I highly recommend you check out Fever of the Bone.
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