BENEATH THE BLEEDING is the fifth book in the Tony Hill / Carol Jordan series from Scottish writer Val McDermid. Which fans of this writer will already know. Fans will also know that anybody as daft as me, who would leave this book on the review pile for as long as I have, is really missing out on a very good thing.
Now there are plenty of serial or multiple killer books floating around out there, and many readers are well over the whole idea, but you do have to give a moment's thought to revising that attitude when the writer is as talented and assured as McDermid. BENEATH THE BLEEDING grabs the reader from the opening scenes - when a star footballer is admitted to hospital, dying slowly with nobody able to identify the cause. And therein lies the whole pattern of this book - nothing is obvious, nothing is initially as it seems, nobody is quite what they are stacked up to be. Nothing makes sense. Not the series of poisonings, using very obscure toxins. Not the bomb exploding in a football stadium being obviously a terrorist attack. Not the friendship / ongoing dance between Tony and Carol. Not the relationship between Tony and his mother.
There are some serious complications in Carol's investigation of these poisonings. Firstly Tony's laid up in hospital - his leg badly broken by a psychiatric patient off his medication and out of control. Tony's insight in investigations has progressed to the point where you might call it "profiling" but it's much more than that. It's all about thinking his way into the killer's head - giving Carol and her team insights into why / how or what the killer might be doing / feeling / seeing / trying to achieve. It's harder to do that when you're laid up in a leg brace in a hospital bed, and you cannot see the reactions of people, can't direct the questioning. Add to that Tony's frustrated by his infirmity and confused by his mother's presence at his bedside. The terrorist bombing adds its own complications bringing the specialist squad to town - not only do they take over the bombing investigation, they do their darned best to bully boy, huff, puff and generally stuff it up into the bargain. And they don't accept input from Carol's team - who are a crack squad in their own right, and they know their own patch very very well.
I hadn't read a Tony Hill / Carol Jordan book for a while - I think what little of the TV series I watched put me off a little. The Tony Hill of the books is a complicated, tricky individual - very much a "physician heal thyself" sort of a character. Jordan's equally complicated, prickly, determined. It's very easy to see how a friendship has developed between these two characters, and how the ever-present potential romance is almost threatening - rather than something comforting that they should be working towards. Ultimately, what comes out of BENEATH THE BLEEDING is a good, nicely twisty plot, a lot of tension and some seriously paced action. There's a good ensemble cast, although the concentration on the two main characters does mean that they disappear a little into the background. There's a good balancing of the personal and the professional, as well as the frustration and elation of difficult investigations and the pressures that Tony and Carol both feel - from others and from themselves.