The Retribution - Val McDermid I discovered Val McDermid back in the early 1990s when the first of her Kate Branigan series, Dead Beat, was published in 1995.

The fact that this is only the seventh book in the series demonstrates that McDermid doesn't churn them out, factory-fashion. In recent years she has interspersed the books in the series with stand-alone thrillers that have generally been high quality reads. Most of the novels in the series have also been well-written and gripping thrillers. So it was disappointing to read the latest installment and feel distinctly underwhelmed, all the more so because I expected to enjoy it very much.

In essence, this is the story of the escape from prison of serial killer, Jacko Vance, in whose capture and imprisonment forensic psychologist and profiler Tony Hill and police officer Carol Jordan were instrumental in the second novel in the series, The Wire In The Blood. Vance plans to leave England, but not before he takes vengeance on those responsible for his incarceration. Added to the main narrative is that of another serial killer, who is killing prostitutes in particularly gruesome ways.

The novel starts with Vance’s escape from prison, an incident of breath-taking implausibility. There’s nothing startling about implausibility in crime fiction. Indeed, if readers can’t cope with implausible, then they probably should be reading a different type of fiction. But for me, this particular prison escape strained credulity so much that I had difficulty accepting the details of Vance’s subsequent revenge spree with anything approaching suspension of disbelief. In addition, the secondary serial killer story felt tacked on and irrelevant and the resolution of both strands of the narrative seemed rushed and unsatisfying. Overall, I felt let down by the plot. It promised much and delivered little.

What kept me reading was the characters. McDermid is very good at creating characters readers can care about. Her central protagonists, Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, are flawed but compelling. The secondary characters are also very well drawn. McDermid has allowed her characters to grow and change throughout the series, which adds interest to the novels. As a reader I genuinely want to know where she will take them.

I’m worried about my reaction to this particular instalment in the series. I have often stopped reading a series because I’ve become bored and stopped caring what happens next. With this series, I still care about the characters. However, my tolerance for far-fetched serial killer stories has decreased over time. That doesn’t bode well for my future enjoyment of Val McDermid’s novels. But I’ve spent almost twenty years reading and (mostly) enjoying her work and I want to keep on liking her books. So I’ll keep reading them for a while yet, in the hope - in the fervent hope - that my disappointment with this novel is just a glitch.

This is a 3 star read because McDermid writes good prose and creates great characters. Otherwise it would be closer to 2-1/2 stars. If I were a teacher and this were a school report, I’d be writing “Could do better”.