Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Last Temptation - Val Mcdermid

It is interesting to see how a series of novels (in any genre) develops over the course of time. The quality of the series (which is subjective) is one thing, other things that are of interest include the themes/canvas/setting that the author chooses over the course of the series and any change in them. Some authors seem to be clear right from the beginning about how the series is going to go. For instance, right from 'Faceless Killers', once can sense/see the themes that Mankell would expand upon in his next works. 'Sjöwall and Wahlöö apparently had a plan for 10 books alone, right from the beginning. Some authors are different, it does take time for them to find their voice, like Rankin for instance. The initial novels of Rebus series like 'Tooth & Nail', 'Hide & Seek' etc could be termed as slasher novels. They were good yes, but it is with novels like 'Black Book', 'Black & blue' that you see Rankin finding his feet and his preferred zone of writing. 

Similar is the case of 'Val Mcdermid's Tony Hill. Yes, the series made a splash right from the beginning with the unique protagonist 'Tony Hill' , which was in a way, the emasculation of the dominant masculinity of crime fiction. So, you had a unique main character and  antagonists whose evil shocked many, but they still remain dangerously close to slasher novels. The third novel in the series 'The Last Temptation' falls in this category.The interplay between characters, the well-drawn story lines of the earlier series are missing in them. 

'The Last Temptation' sees Carol Jordan going undercover in Europe to nail a gangster. (Too?) coincidentally, Tony too lands up in Europe as part of an investigation into the serial killing of psychologists. The two strands proceed in parallel and result in a gory end. The killing of the psychologists is gory, but not well thought out with the main intention being to shock the reader. Carol's thread had a lot of potential, which the latter day Val Mcdermid would surely have fleshed out well, the dynamics between Carol and the Gangster, the blurring of the lines between reality and the part one is playing etc, but as such what we get are the flashes of potential that we see to fruition in the later novels, but which remain underdeveloped here ultimately. Even the intentions of the serial killer has potential with the weight of history lending credence to it. But here again, it remains an interesting idea that didn't achieve it's full potential. Mcdermid takes the easy way out in the convergence of the 2 threads towards the end. The revelation about an event which helped Carol to enter the gangster's world is totally incredulous. One actually guesses it beforehand, but still holds hope that Mcdermid would never go for such a far-fetched scenario, and hence is disappointed when our guess turns out to be correct. One thing is consistent though. Right from the first book, Mcdermid has never been squeamish about blood and gore, (at the same time avoiding gratuitous violence) and putting her characters in difficult places, both emotionally and physically. 

As a crime fiction novel, it is middling at best. But  since it tells us why the Tony-Carol relationship is the way it is in the later novels, it is important in that sense and hence is a must read if you are a follower of this series.


  1. I admire McDermid's writing but can only just about cope with the level of violence.

  2. One can sense Mcdermid still finding her feet with the Tony Hill series in this novel.