Relationships (personal, business, familial, friendship) are complicated things, as the 6th Tony Hill and Carol Jordan book FEVER IN THE BONE explores.
The central investigation centres around the brutal deaths of a number of apparently unconnected teenage victims. Starting out with a look at the victims themselves, and therefore into their family relationships, McDermid simultaneously weaves in a closer look at the families of her main characters. Tony's hitherto unknown father, and his non-relationship with his mother; the strange little "family" that is Hill and Carol Jordan's friendship; even the family that is the Carol's specialist investigation squad. Tellingly, McDermid also explores the relationships that people form in the world of social networking (going so far, it seems, as to create the social networking environment referred to in the book - which has now closed down I believe).
One of the most important things I noticed in reading FEVER OF THE BONE is that even though I'm all over the place with this series, there was no point when I felt I was missing out on something from an earlier book. I think a reader could jump into the series just about anywhere and find themselves engaged from the start. Sure there's some relationship development - particularly between Tony and Carol - that's going on, but it's carefully paced and it's not hard to work out what the backstory is. Mind you, it probably does help to realise that part of McDermid's great skill as a writer is evident in Tony. He's undoubtedly one of the most engaging annoying characters you're ever going to encounter in crime fiction. Possibly not surprising when you consider that his profiling style is to somehow or other think himself into the head of a killer, but it's definitely not a recipe for being an all sunshine and happy smiling times sort of a bloke.
There is some backstory to Tony, from his childhood through to the recent discovery of the identity of the father that he never knew. There are a lot of reasons for Tony to be complicated and they are explored in FEVER OF THE BONE. There are undoubtedly reasons for Carol to be complicated also. And that's another relationship that gets an airing in FEVER OF THE BONE - Carol has a new boss - James Blake. She has gone from having the support of her superiors, including their understanding that Tony's consultancy role on major investigations is a given, to a new boss who isn't supportive, is borderline dismissive and extremely suspicious of the combination of personal and professional between Tony and Carol. When he stops Carol from using Tony as a consultant to this investigation, he cuts off a lifeline that she's relied upon. Not just because of his skill as a profiler, but because Carol feels safe when Tony is around. Eventually Tony is able to hand Carol a way of ensuring his involvement, but with that comes an offer of major change in both their lives. As the investigation is resolved, the future becomes the next mystery - for them and for the reader.
With every book I read in this series, I find something new to admire. The way that McDermid works with her characters, exposing flaws, highlighting strengths, making them human whilst not overtly looking for sympathy. Obviously this is strongest in the main characters, but there is also evolution in the supporting character set. The way she humanises the victims - again flaws, strengths and all. There's good, solid, old-fashioned police investigating going on, supported admirably by clever technology, but the emphasis is the right way around - the hi-tech supports the slog, enhances the hunches, and tightens up the timeframes within the investigation. And finally, there's a clever, tight and quite chilling plot, with some unexpected but perfectly believable twists and turns that lead to a final resolution that will make the reader think long and hard about assumptions and prejudices.