I've been reading Val McDermid since the early 1990s, when I was introduced to her Kate Brannigan series. While I haven't loved all of her novels, I've considered her to be a reliable crime fiction writer with a range extending from quirky private detective stories, to solid police procedurals, to more gruesome psychological thrillers.
This is McDermid’s most recent stand-alone thriller. It starts out well, if implausibly. Five year old Jimmy Higgins is abducted from O’Hare Airport while his guardian, ghost writer Stephanie Harker, is waiting for a security pat-down, necessitated by a metal plate in her leg setting off the metal detector. By the time the authorities realise what’s happened, Jimmy and his kidnapper have disappeared. Stephanie is interviewed by an FBI agent and tells the agent how she came to be Jimmy’s guardian after the death of his mother, reality television star Scarlett Higgins*. Stephanie’s first person narrative is alternated with a third person narrative concerning the investigation into Jimmy’s disappearance.
Stephanie’s long-winded story is one of the many problems I have with this novel. Not so much the story itself, which may have been interesting if it had been a memoir, but the fact that it’s supposed to be the record of an interview following the abduction of a child. As such, it is totally unconvincing. So much so, that I wondered for a while whether McDermid was going to do an Ian McEwan and pull off a piece of meta-fictional prestidigitation. But I was wrong. At the risk of disclosing a spoiler, Stephanie’s story is an interview and the investigation is an investigation.
Another problem I have with the work are the relentless references to popular culture. References to books, films, television programs and social media saturate the narrative in a way that will only date the work. McDermid also felt obliged to include a discussion of “Issues”. A discussion of personal and celebrity stalking, for example, runs through the plot, without adding much to it. And then there’s the ending. I don’t have a problem with implausibility in crime fiction. But there’s not-very-believable-but-still-satisfying and there’s just plain silly. For me, this was one of those silly endings. Suspending disbelief was just too much of an effort. My eyes rolled clear to the back of my head.
It would be wrong to say that the novel has nothing going for it. McDermid writes good prose and in spite of everything, I wanted to find out what happened. There are red herrings and misdirection, but there are also clues pointing to the solution. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Antonia Beamish, who did an excellent job. But it’s a poor effort, particularly when compared to some of McDermid’s better works, such as [b:A Place Of Execution|91487|A Place Of Execution|Val McDermid|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1311971779s/91487.jpg|1179513].
*Who is clearly inspired by English reality television star Jade Goody.