British crime writer
, born in Scotland
, grew up in a mining
community, went to Oxford University
to study English, then spent 16 years as a reporter
for a tabloid newspaper
before quitting in 1991 to write full time. She now lives in Derbyshire
, and is a well-known figure on the literary festival
s circuit, where she pops up both to give reading
s of her work, and on panels discussing various topics. Usually in an articulate
fashion. She's been heard, more than once, slagging off Patricia Cornwell
for her right-wing
politics and the degenerating quality of her writing. Val McDermid is one of my heroine
She's written crime novels in three series, as well as one-off novels and non-fiction. The series, in order of commencement, are:
The Lindsay Gordon series, featuring a lesbian journalist in a variety of japes. It seems to me that, like lots of first central characters, Lindsay Gordon is the closest to McDermid herself, being both lesbian, leftie and a journalist. McDermid herself has said that Lindsay Gordon is, in a way, her alter ego. This series was originally published by the Women's Press, and is the least good of the three. Can be a bit heavy-handed with the politics.
Report for Murder, 1987
Common Murder, 1989
Final Edition, 1991
Union Jack, 1993
Booked for Murder, 1996
The Kate Brannigan series, featuring a heterosexual private investigator. Again, like the Lindsay Gordon books, these are series-driven, relatively 'light' crime novels, mysteries in the Agatha Christie tradition, though with a modern setting, and a left-wing, social commentary slant. They're slghtly sharper and more detatched than the first series, perhaps because the central character is one the author identifies less strongly with- she has described her as 'my ideal best friend'- though it looks very much to me as if McDermid's alter ego pops up again in the character of Brannigan's best friend, (say it with me) lesbian journalist Alexis Lee.
Dead Beat, 1992
Kick Back, 1993
Clean Break, 1995
Blue Genes, 1996
Star Struck, 1998
The Tony Hill series are another kind of book entirely, much more psychological thrillers than murder mysteries. The central character is a straight male profiler, who specialises in drawing up psychological profiles of serial offenders, in particular serial killers. In the second of the two books in this series so far, McDermid pulls off a very unusual piece of plotting, which breaks one of the central rules of the crime fiction genre: the central character and anyone else you're allowed to identify with will not be killed. These books are orders of magnitude better than either of the previous series, and they've really been responsible for McDermid's rise to being one of the best-respected crime writers around. And I haven't spotted any obvious lesbian journalists in them, either...
The Mermaids Singing, 1995
The Wire in the Blood, 1997
The stand-alone novels are:
A Place of Execution, 1999
Brilliantly written, but with a completely preposterous ending.
Killing the Shadows, 2000
Also a good book, but a bit cliched in some of the characterisation. Feels like it 'ought to be' the start of yet another series, introducing Professor Fiona Cameron (a specialist in geographical profiling of crime) and her partner Kit Martin (a crime writer), but McDermid has said she doesn't think there's any mileage in the characters. The book concerns a serial killer murdering crime writers, and it's a good game to see which real-life writers she's hinting at.
For completeness' sake, she's also published A Suitable Job for a Woman (1994), a book about real-life female private eyes, and a collection of short stories, The Writing on the Wall.