Atlantic Monthly Press, 416 pages, $25
Psychologist Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan of the Banfield Police in South Yorkshire, England, have been going at it for eight books now, but only professionally and platonically. South Yorkshire has been saved from a number of serial killers because of them. (Banfield has a high rate of serial killers per capita. If you live in Banfield … RUN!) But no longer, because they have gotten the platonic equivalent of a divorce.
After the horrible events set forth in The Retribution, Carol has resigned from the police force and has moved away from Banfield to her dead brother’s home. She blames Tony for what happened (read the book) and the two have not spoken in months. Tony, in his own dysfunctional way, pines for her. She, on the other hand, reviles him and actively works to put him out of her mind.
After Carol resigned and the Major Incident Team was disbanded because of budget cuts, the team members have dispersed. Tony is back at Banfield Cross Hospital. Paula McIntyre, Carol’s “bagman,” now fills that position under DCI Alex Fielding.
Here’s an interesting note. In the acknowledgements, Val McDermid says that Patrick Harbinson created the character of DCI Alex Fielding for the television series Wire in the Blood, when the actress who played Carol Jordan left. In art imitating art, McDermid now recycles the name for a character with a completely different personality than that of the TV character. Authorly humor, no doubt.
Someone is kidnapping middle-aged blonde women and returning them dead. We actually get to “see” the anonymous killer’s sick reasoning. He is looking for the “perfect wife.” She must be a good cook and totally submissive. When the women he takes fail his tests, he kills them. His current victim is Bev McAndrew, an acquaintance of Paula and her partner, Elinore. Bev’s 14-year-old son, Torin, has nowhere to go, so Paula and Elinore take him in.
The story really belongs to Paula. In order to find Bev, she calls on the skills of some of her former MIT teammates, including Tony and computer guru Stacey. Then Alex Fielding takes the information gathered to date and jumps to an incredible conclusion: Anthony Valentine Hill must be the killer. “I am arresting you on suspicion of murder,” she says to Tony. Gasp.
If you have been a reader of McDermid’s prior books, you know that Tony is a brilliant profiler but a pretty hopeless human being. He’s almost child-like in his inability to take care of himself and finds it difficult to establish normal relationships. His arrest astounds and mortifies him. To help him, Paula pulls a rabbit out of the hat, and the rabbit's name is Carol Jordan.
Over the course of seven prior books, McDermid has slowly built up the strange relationship dance in which Tony and Carol are engaged. When their tenuous bond was snapped by Carol at the end of the last book, this created a back story that is almost more compelling than the mystery McDermid has devised.
McDermid is the top of the line when it comes to creating creepy-crawly serial killers. She has won awards and accolades. Her Tony Hill and Carol Jordan interplay is genius. Bringing Paula McIntyre to the forefront will keep her audience’s interest. Aren’t we all saying, What will Val McDermid do to top this?
The choice of Cross and Burn for the title comes from a quote with which McDermid starts her book. David Russell, another mystery writer, writes: “The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn.” Has Carol burned all her bridges, or is there still a way back?