Saturday, January 4, 2020

Review: How the Dead Speak by Val McDermid

How the Dead Speak (Tony Hill & Carol Jordan, Book #11)
by Val McDermid
Release Date: December 3, 2019
2019 Atlantic Monthly Press
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0802147615
Genre: Fiction / Murder
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

With Tony behind bars and Carol finally out of road as a cop, he's finding unexpected outlets for his talents in jail and she's joined forces with a small informal group of lawyers and forensics experts looking into suspected miscarriages of justice. But they're doing it without each other; being in the same room at visiting hour is too painful to contemplate. Meanwhile, construction is suddenly halted on the redevelopment of an orphanage after dozens of skeletons are found buried in the grounds. Forensic examination reveals they date from between twenty and forty years ago, when the nuns were running their repressive regime. But then a different set of skeletons are discovered in a far corner, young men from as recent as ten years ago.

When newly promoted DI Paula McIntyre discovers that one of the male skeletons is that of a killer who is supposedly alive and behind bars--and the subject of one of Carol's miscarriage investigations--it brings Tony and Carol irresistibly into each other's orbit once again.

My Thoughts
How the Dead Speak is the eleventh entry in the Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series, a series I have been following since the very beginning.  After the explosive ending of the previous book, I was wondering where the author would go from there and I really liked what she did with the characters and the setup for future novels.  However, this is still a murder mystery, and while the development of the characters was fascinating, I thought the mystery was rather weak. So I thought I would separate my review into two sections.  Unfortunately, if you haven't yet delved into this series, there will be spoilers.

Like any series, there comes a point where something so shocking happens the author has to kind of regroup with the readers to try and figure out a way forward.  For so many years, we were treated to brilliant cases and watched as Carol slowly descended into alcoholism and Tony felt helpless watching Carol struggle through something with which he couldn't help.  I'm sure every fan was wondering the same thing: How could a series survive knowing its two stars were out of the game? One in prison, the other forced to retire.  

Unfortunately, this book is more of a filler rather than a mystery novel.  Rushed, disjointed, with a lackluster mystery, it seemed to be more about the characters and their reactions to what was happening rather than about the mystery and the job. One of the things I typically liked about these books is learning about the killer and their motivations as well as the relationships amongst all the players.  Because we learn quite early who the killer is in this book, I really feel it takes some of the edge away from the book plus we don't learn anything about the person other than they were 'really nice'.  There is really no impact on anything or anyone.  And while this was sad, it should have been a lot more emotionally than what we got.  

Rather, the author focuses more on Carol's attempts at therapy and Tony's doings in jail, but these are really backstories and should not have been major story lines.  Yes, it was definitely important to learn what the two were up to but at the forefront of a story? No.  And using Vanessa, Tony's mother? Not a fan of that little sideshow.  

Now, the story line about the buried children in the convent area was quite fascinating and I really wish the author had taken that event much further than she did.  This was more Paula and Stacey's story and I feel like the author missed a golden opportunity to capitalize on this case and really make it something.  Struggling to adapt to a new boss and new teammates, the intricacies involved in the new relationships could have been really intriguing but came down to 'she's my equal so I can't say anything about that' situations.  I almost felt like I was reading about a different Paula and Stacey and the two had been body-snatched. They still manage to come up with some of the best dialogue in the book though. But I definitely missed the fire-cracker Paula and was not impressed with what happened at the end of the book. And Rutherford? Cliche new boss.  That path really had to be taken.

As always though, the different threads do connect. And while I enjoyed the character development and loved learning what the different characters were doing, I missed the thrill of an explosive novel and a great mystery that is typical of this author. 

How the Dead Speak is one of those books I was a bit unsure about reading simply because the previous book had such an explosive ending I was not sure where the author would take the characters and the story line.  That being said, this book is definitely not the place to start for someone new to this series.  There is way too much history between the characters and the author does not explain what happened in previous books so you really do need to read them.  And while this book is not my favourite in the series, it definitely sets up a new direction for the characters and new possibilities.  I just have no idea where the author is heading but I am curious to find out.  Hopefully though, the mystery will return to the main focus as I really missed the excitement and thrill of the police work in this novel.  It just wasn't the same.