Fresh Meat: Val McDermid’s The Retribution

The Retribution by Val McDermidThere is one serial killer who has shaped and defined police profiler Tony Hill’s life…Jacko Vance. And now Jacko is back…Even more twisted and cunning than ever before, he is focused on wreaking revenge on Tony—and DCI Carol Jordan—for the years he has spent in prison. Tony doesn’t know when Jacko will strike, or where. All he knows is that Jacko will cause him to feel fear like he has never known before and devastate his life in ways he cannot imagine…

Though The Retribution is seventh in Val McDermid’s series about profiler Tony Hill and police office Carol Jordan, I am here to say that you do not need to have read the books in order to enjoy the book. I read my first McDermid novel, The Last Temptation, only a few months ago, and then (temporarily!) skipped over the rest when I received this one for review.  Longtime readers may have additional rewards, but even if this is your first novel in this series, I don’t think it will matter all that much in terms of following the story, or in being swept away by it.  In fact, I think this particular novel would be a great place to start, as its villain harks back to an earlier book, The Wire in the Blood (which will definitely be the next McDermid novel I read).

McDermid is highly skilled at slipping in important and intriguing bits of characterization.  For instance, the villain of the piece is quickly summarized but the facts of that summary by no means lessened my curiosity about him:

Jacko Vance, killer of seventeen teenage girls, murderer of a serving police officer and a man once voted the sexiest man on British TV, could hardly wait.

McDermid describes Hill vibrantly, a bit at a time, with all his flaws and confusions:

Tony reckoned he didn’t even look capable of guarding his own body, never mind anyone else’s. Medium height; slight of build; wirier than he deserved to be, given that his principal exercise came from playing Rayman’s Raving Rabbids on his Wii; leather jacket, hooded sweatshirt, black jeans…Even after all these years, Tony still struggled to keep a poker face when Carol Jordan was mentioned. It was a struggle worth maintaining, though. For one thing, he believed in never giving hostages to fortune. But more importantly, he’d always found it impossible to define what Carol meant to him and he wasn’t inclined to give others the chance to jump to mistaken conclusions…“I sometimes feel like my whole life is a country music song,”Tony grumbled. “And not one of the upbeat ones.”…“I won’t deny that the people who do this kind of thing fascinate me. The more disturbed they are, the more I want to figure out what makes them tick. And how I can help them to make the mechanism function a bit better.” He sighed. “But I am weary of looking at the end results.”

And finally the cop, Carol Jordan, first appears offstage, but then her own opinion of herself turns out to be much less glowing:

“Track record like hers? First the Met, then something mysterious with Europol, then heading up her own major crimes unit in the fourth biggest force in the country and beating the counter-terrorism twats at their own game . . . There’s only a handful of coppers in the whole country with her experience who still want to be at the sharp end, rather than flying a desk.”…Justice was what Carol craved, but these days she felt it seldom showed up.

The complexity and realism of McDermid’s characters carried me rapidly through the novel, even her twisted villain, who narrates his own long sections, giving a very clear picture of the horrors and difficulties that Hill and Jordan face.  The cleverness of their enemy makes their own struggles to capture him even more tense.  Hill and Jordan’s established relationship, shown throughout, also added to the tension, as they at times have to negotiate each other as well as the crime.

This was a dark, gripping tale that I’d recommend to all fans of edgy, suspenseful police procedurals.

Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at