Cross and Burn is the eighth installment in the British police procedural crime thriller series written by Val McDermid featuring psychological profiler Dr. Tony Hill and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan set in the Manchester suburbs of Bradfield in the north of England. This series is one of the most exciting and compelling entries in the multiple genres that it occupies (which include suspense thriller, British police procedural, and murder mystery). It is also one of the rare series that has both a male and female lead in a primarily non-romantic relationship.
I hadn’t read one of McDermid’s books in a while so I had forgotten about one of the most effective aspects of her books, which is the inclusion of first-person perspectives of future crime victims. By doing this, she connects the reader to the characters and increases the impact of their deaths at the hands of the homicidal psychopaths that tend to populate her books. It’s also surprising because many authors generally use first-person mode to indicate important characters who may be placed in extreme peril and ultimately survive, but McDermid seems to be unafraid of killing off these characters. It's not like they always die or always survive, so the uncertainty ratchets up the suspense in the reader.
As I have said before, one of the added pleasures of reading a long-running series in order that have a repeated primary protagonist (like Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan, Stephen Booth’s Cooper & Fry, Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks or Peter James’ Roy Grace, for example) is the deepening relationship the reader has with the characters due to increased familiarity via repetition. In the Hill & Jordan series, the two have gone through a lot together, especially in the previous book’s The Retribution which resulted in the horrendous death of Carole Jordan’s only brother and his female partner. This happened as a direct consequence of her and Tony’s work of hunting and capturing a serial killer (who escaped and went on a killing spree). It causes Carol to (irrationally) blame Tony for his inability to realize that once the serial killer had escaped that his revenge might have included her family, quit her job as a police officer, and cut off all contact with Tony and her former colleagues in the Bradfield Metropolitan police department.
In addition to including first-person perspectives of victims McDermid often includes first-person perspectives of the perpetrator as well. This is something other suspense thriller authors do as well, but generally not as cleverly as she does. In Cross and Burn, the reader watches with horror while a deranged male chauvinist targets women who happen to resemble Carol Jordan, capturing them, making them play out his twisted vision of a “perfect subservient wife” and then eventually killing them when they fail to meet his insane “standards.” Through back channels Tony is brought in to help with the case by DI Paula McIntyre when she’s approached for help by the teenage son of a missing woman who works in the same hospital as her wife. For some reason Paula’s new boss decides that circumstantial evidence tying Tony to one of the disappearances of a woman later found dead means that he is likely the serial killer the Bradfield police are looking for. The only good outcome of this bizarre development is that it gets Carol out of her mourning funk enough to try and help Tony fight the charges.
Another one of the notable features of McDermid’s books are the (sometimes gory) scenes of violence and torture. She doesn’t shy away from the depiction of the horrors that violent crimes, both physical and psychological, can produce. Despite this, her books are always entertaining, well-plotted and memorable. In fact, overall Cross and Burn is an example of a master working at the height of her craft, cementing her status as one of the best in the business by creating another spine-chilling entry in her long running series.
Title: Cross and Burn (Tony Hill & Carol Jordan, #8).
Author: Val McDermid.
Length: 438 pages.
Publisher: Mariner Books.
Date Published: October 22, 2013.
Date Read: October 8, 2021.
OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.5/4.0).