Trick of the Dark is one of Val McDermid’s stand-alone novels. For me they provide a refreshing break from getting over-invested in the lives, trials and tribulations of her series *cough* Wire In The Blood.
This book follows disgraced psychiatrist and profiler Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Kent as her old tutor at Oxford Dr Corinna Newsam reaches out to her asking for help. Her daughter Magda’s husband was murdered on their wedding day and now Magda’s shacked up with an old student/former babysitter of Corinna’s. I envision reaching out going something like this (although the book makes it much more cryptic of course’: ‘Dear former student who is in fact a lesbian, despite my values dictating I should be homophobic I’m fairly ok with who you are. Let’s catch up, PS I think my daughter’s girlfriend is a serial killer….’
So we spend the entire book thinking it’s way too easy for Jay Macallan Stewart, dotcom millionaire and now new squeeze of Magda Newsam to successfully kill people who get in her way. We’re not helped by the process of Jay writing her memoirs, which trick your mind and leave gaps that make you think Jay is a fairly unreliable narrative – of course in the McDermid world this jumps to ‘could be a serial killer’ – a hangover of crime genre means you’re immediately weary of the person presented as likely to be the killer throughout – because it NEVER normally is.
What I wasn’t expecting for the ending was for Jay to be not entirely innocent – that did take me by surprise a bit and it was nice to see some sort of comeuppance for her actions, even if a large portion of it was just in her personal life.
What I love about McDermid is a lot of the time she writes what she knows – not murders and criminal psychology obviously but the way she deals with issues of gender, sexuality and how this relates to an institution such as Oxford feels like it comes from a place of experience, and that makes the characters so much deeper and easier to relate to and fall in love with. Speaking of falling in love, I don’t think I’ll ever fall out of love with McDermid. I am not even joking when I say I probably own everything she has ever written and eagerly anticipate her next instalment of everything to satisfy my inner crime novel junkie.