The Mermaids Singing (1995)
Author: Val McDermid
"You always remember the first time. Isn't that what they say about sex? How much more true it is of murder" (Handy Andy from The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid). Before now the only serial killers Tony Hill has met have been those he's studied behind bars. Now, however, he's been given the chance to study them 'in the wild', working with the Bradfield Police and Detective Inspector Carol Jordan to find the killer of four male sex crime victims. He has to balance his admiration for such a complex mind with his professionalism as he builds a profile of the killer (Handy Andy). Tony juggles his (mostly) professional relationship with DI Jordan, an old-fashioned Detective Superintendent who refuses to believe the words of a mumbo-jumbo man, and a killer targeting the police's own all the while trying to not become a target himself as he fits the victims' profile. McDermid begins each chapter with excerpts from Handy Andy's diary, giving chilling backstory to the victims, their lives and their deaths.
Geographical Setting: Northern England (fictional city of Bradfield)
Time Period: Present Day
Series: Hill/Jordan book #1.
This compelling book looks at the lives of all the characters, with several comparisons between the characters Dr. Hill and Handy Andy (the name he gives the serial killer). It may seem convoluted at first with the chapters beginning with excerpts from Andy's diary, but it draws together nicely at the end when McDermid ramps up the pace and throws in an unexpected plot twist.
Read-alikes: This book is the first of the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series by McDermid, which continues in The Wire in the Blood (1997), The Last Temptation (2002) and The Torment of Others (2005). If the reader is interested in female dective novels, try McDermid's Lindsay Gordon series (starting with Report for Murder, 1987) and the Kate Brannigan series (starting with Dead Beat, 1992). Readers interested in mysteries set in England might consider P.D. James (try An Unsuitable Job for a Woman if interested in a female private dective or the DI Dalgliesh series starting with Cover Her Face), Frances Fyfield's (a pseudonym for Frances Hegarty) Sarah Fortune series (start with Shadows on the Mirror, 1989) or her Helen West series (start with A Question of Guilt, 1988), fellow Gold Dagger award winner Ian Rankin (Knots and Crosses, 1987, starts the Inspector Rebus series) or Deborah Crombie and her Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series (start with A Share in Death, 1993) for another English crime-solving team.
Red Flags: Occasional profanity; graphic torture and mutilation sex murders; homosexual, heterosexual and impotent character themes. Loss of sleep due to continued reading and the graphic details. Not for the faint of heart.