Review: The Torment of Others by Val McDermid

The fourth book in Val McDermid’s successful series featuring psychologist and profiler Tony Jordan and DCI Carol Jordan opens with Jordan on extended leave following the events that took place in the previous book. She is approached to head up a new squad based at her old station in Bradfield which will focus on high profile cases and, when there aren’t any of those, will look at cold cases. Just as they receive a break in a recent cold case involving two missing boys a new murder requires the team’s immediate attention. A prostitute has been brutally tortured and murdered in exactly the same way as several women murdered two years previously. The only problem is that irrefutable forensic evidence convicted a man for those murders and he’s still locked up, having not spoken a word in two years.

I don’t know if the violence in some crime fiction has gotten worse or I have simply had my fill but I just don’t want to read another graphic description of the brutal rape, torture and murder of women (and it is almost always women). Is it not enough for the plot that a woman is raped and murdered? Is a story really made better by having a razor-blade impregnated object used for the purpose? Does each murder really need to be more bloody, more awful, more unimaginably painful and degrading than the last? For this book anyway the answer to that question seemed to be yes.

The worst thing is that not only did the violent depictions and language add nothing of value to the book but they weren’t in place of decent plotting and characters as would be the case with lesser writers The plot is cleverly constructed with all the threads being kept active at the right pace. There was a good balance of story advancement and personal interactions between the team members and the relationship between Carol and Tony Hill is now so fraught with emotional problems on both sides that it could generate a book of its very own. The razor-blade rapes and crude language detracted from these elements in the same way that people who swear constantly lose any capacity to underline a particularly strong emotion or point with a single well-placed curse word.

What about the audio book?

Vari Sylvester is a terrific narrator and because she is female I didn’t keep forming an image of Robson Green as the character of Tony Hill which I did when I listened to an earlier book in this series narrated by a man.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 2.5/5
Author website http://www.valmcdermid.com/
Narrator Vari Sylvester
Publisher ISIS Audio Books [2004]
ISBN N/A
Length 13 hours 54 minutes
Format audio CD
Book Series #4 in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series
Source Borrowed from the library

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11 Responses to Review: The Torment of Others by Val McDermid

  1. janebbooks says:

    Bernadette, I see that this is your first review of one of McDermid’s Hill/Jordan novels that’s called “The Wire in the Blood” series on BBC TV. Her stand-alone novels are not as violent: she really hooked us with A PLACE OF EXECUTION, didn’t she?

    Perhaps people read the Hill/Jordan or the Jordan/Hill series for the relationship between Tony and Carol. I just did a review of the sixth in the series FEVER TO THE BONE for Amazon which reveals a great deal about the persional life of the profiler and the cop!
    In fact, one reviewer said that their relationship is one of the most talked about “will they, want they” ones in crime fiction. I think authors should give their protagonist(s) a life, too..especially in intense stories!

    Jane in Florida

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  2. Maxine says:

    I dimly recollect this one from your review (it did not stick in the mind!) and remember having a similar reaction to you about the mechanical and unnecessary violence. She has toned it down in more recent novels (even the most recent Jordan/Hill one, about a social network kidnapping, was not graphic), but at that stage she seemed to think that the gorier and torturey was what sold. (I was sickened by a panel at Harrogate about 3 years ago when she and some other authors held a discussion with repeated excerpts from their books describing torture and sadism were on a continuous ppt loop.) I think she must be now positioning herself much more at the mainstream of bestsellerdom as she has cut much of that out, now. (Unlike other top=selling authors such as Karin Slaughter who merrily carry on getting more sickeningly inventive with each book). I still don’t get why so many people, including many women, like this stuff for its own sake, because it surely is not essential for the solving of a crime mystery!

    Sorry for the rant, returning to your review, I think this is the book in which I felt the perpetrator was pretty unrealistic, certainly when one thought about h0w all the crimes had to have been committed with luck and access playing a large part – but can say no more without spoilers!

    Also in the Hill/Jordan series generally, I find that the police characters just seem to be able to go off all the time and do their own thing irrespective of what they have been told to do (bit like Sophie Hannah’s later books)- don’t know h0w likely that is in this box-ticking era…..

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  3. Bernadette – Thanks for this fine review. I agree with you completely. There is no need at all for the kind of graphic depictions of violence that there are in some crime fiction novels (and McDermid’s not the only one by any means who’s done that). I honestly don’t know whether publishers think it sells more, or readers actually want to buy that kind of thing, or what’s behind it. But there is a lot of terrible brutality in some of today’s crime fiction and it’s so un-ncessary. Your review is such a good example, too, of how that kind of violence can actually take away from what could otherwise be a good novel.

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  4. Maxine says:

    Just to add to Jane’s comments – I disagree that Carol/Tony is a much talked about “will they, won’t they”, I find them rather cardboard. (I am basing this on the books, I have not watched the TV series.) I have read Fever of (?) the Bone, too, and I still maintain my view. (Each to her own, of course.) I think there are much better depicted will they/won’t they relationships in current crime fic, eg Flea Marley and Jack Caffery in Mo Hayder’s series and Hannah Scarlett/Daniel Kind in Martin Edwards’s series. I have to agree, though, that anything is better than Charlie (female) and Simon (male) in Sophie Hannah’s book, which takes the biscuit in boring adolescent behaviour (or non-behaviour, even though they are by now engaged, but still very frustrated in all senses of the word with each other).

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  5. Dorte H says:

    I have read two of this series, and though I have loved a couple of McDermid´s stand-alones, I have decided not to open more of her Jordan/Hill books. Unnecessary violence and gore, and totally unnecessary glimpses of the mind of psychopaths!

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  6. @Jane I have only read one of McDermid’s standalones and I will certainly try another but I’m done with the Jordan/Hill books. For me the relationship between the two is fairly juvenille and I find it impossible to believe their behaviour would be condoned by any law enforcement agency in the real world.

    @Maxine I’m glad to hear the violence has gotten less in later books but I won’t be finding out for myself as I really have had enough of this particular series. I agree though that McDermid is certainly not the worst perpetrator of this kind of muck, Linda Castillo’s second book is the worst I have read in terms of wallowing in violence and several of Karin Slaughter’s are right up there too. I’m done with them all.

    Have to agree with you too that the perpetrator for this one was unrealistic. I can’t make the point I’d like to make without giving away spoilers so I will say no more.

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  7. I am keen to read something by Val McDermid. I heard a conversation between her and Romana Koval I think it was on the ABC Radio National Book show and she seemed like such a fascinating person. She also talked a lot about the graphic nature of the violence which was interesting to hear her views on (I shoudl say, I remember really finding the show super interesting, but it was so long ago I can’t remember what she said anymore).

    I am a criminal lawyer and I work with serious criminal matters in the District and Supreme Courts so fortunately I am a bit immune to graphic descriptions of murders and rapes.

    In my experience, the more graphic the description in the book, the less realistic it seems to me, because I read the real thing all the time – and it is always so much more ordinary than you expect.

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  8. @Becky I think you make an excellent point about the more graphic descriptions being less realistic – to be honest I think the whole ‘serial killer’ thing is over done anyway (we all know there aren’t as many in the real world as there in the fictional US and UK) and having really horrible and degrading violence depicted just makes it less realistic. I guess I want my crime fiction to be more credible and something of a social commentary rather than a gore fest, and I do acknowledge that my own tastes have changed over time and that others get something out of these books that I don’t. I do think McDermid is a good writer though and I always love hearing her interviewed (I think I must have heard her on the Book Show too) but I think I’ll stick to the standalone novels in future.

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  9. kathy durkin says:

    I’m glad to know this about this series by the very respected Val McDermid.
    I also am in agreement with you and others about detesting graphic and gratuitous violence against women (or anyone, but women are singled out) in books.
    I want to read a good mystery, a puzzle, character development, a story, not descriptions of the most vile torment human beings can inflict on one another, usually women.
    I don’t get it. I do not read books by Karin Slaughter at all or by any number of authors–women or men, who write of these vile crimes. I do not want to read it.
    I do think that publishers deliberately promote this violence, and I am not sure why. Do they think it sells? Are they promoting misogyny?
    Is it that writers can’t write and substitute vile violence? Good writing can tell a much better story.
    Last year I read a post about a women editor who refused to read any more books like this at her job. She also said that publishers insisted on book covers with women rape or murder victims, not men or children, even if the victims within the book were not women. What is that? Why pander to that? Does it sell books? And what is the world coming to if it does sell books more than artistic or well-designed covers that don’t featured tortured women?
    It’s beyond me. I just know I’m ruthless with my book choices, and will not read books with blood, gore and gratuitous violence.

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  10. I’d always meant to read Val McDermid as I’ve heard great things, but maybe these are’t the books to start with. I agree with you all completely. The obsession with the details of gruesome violence completely turn me off, whether it’s books or movies. My wife says she’s okay with it, as long as it adds something compelling. I would add that it should also serve the story. But, something should be left to whatever horrors the reader might conjure up in his/her imagination. It’s the same with — dare I say it — a sex scene. I’m not equating the two, but there is that same tendency. The reader wants to be led along, not smothered along with their imagination. And I’m no prude, mind you! It just doesn’t work for me.

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