McDermid, Val 1955-
McDERMID, Val 1955-
Born June 4, 1955, in Kircaldy, Scotland; children: one. Education: St. Hilda's College, Oxford University, B.A., 1975.
Journalist in Devon, England, Manchester, England, and Glasgow, Scotland, 1975-91; writer, 1991—. Speaker at writing conferences in Great Britain and America. Correspondent for British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland.
Named National Trainee Journalist of the Year, 1977; Gold Dagger Award from Crime Writers Association, 1995, for The Mermaids Singing; Grand Prix des Roman d'Aventure (France), 1998, for Star Struck; Anthony Award, Barry Award, Macavity Award, Dilys Award from Independent Mystery Booksellers Association, Book of the Year citation from Los Angeles Times, and Notable Book citation from New York Times, all 2001, all for A Place of Execution.
A Suitable Job for a Woman: Inside the World of Women Private Eyes (nonfiction), HarperCollins (London, England), 1995, Poisoned Pen Press (Scottsdale, AZ), 1999.
A Place of Execution, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Killing the Shadows, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.
The Distant Echo, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
"LINDSAY GORDON" SERIES; CRIME NOVELS
Report for Murder, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1987.
Common Murder, Women's Press (London, England), 1989, Spinsters Ink (Duluth, MN), 1995.
Final Edition, Women's Press (London, England), 1991, published as Open and Shut, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991, published as Deadline for Murder, Spinsters Ink (Duluth, MN), 1997.
Union Jack, Women's Press (London, England), 1993, published as Conferences Are Murder, Spinsters Ink (Duluth, MN), 1999.
Booked for Murder, Spinsters Ink (Duluth, MN), 2000.
Hostage to Murder, HarperCollins (London, England), 2003.
"KATE BRANNIGAN" SERIES; CRIME NOVELS
Dead Beat, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Kickback, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Crack Down, Scribner (New York, NY), 1994.
Clean Break, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
Blue Genes, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
"CAROL JORDAN/TONY HILL" SERIES; CRIME NOVELS
The Mermaids Singing, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
The Wire in the Blood, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
The Last Temptation, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Like a Happy Ending, produced by Plymouth Theatre Company (Plymouth, England), 1978.
Also author of the play Battle beyond the Black Hole, first produced in Lincolnshire, England.
Contributor of book reviews to periodicals, including Manchester Evening News.
The Wire in the Blood, a six-part television series based on the Carol Jordan/Tony Hill series aired on the BBC, 2002; Like a Happy Ending was adapted for BBC Radio.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
Further crime novels, series and stand-alone.
Scottish author Val McDermid has won an audience in Europe and America as a result of her socially sensitive and spine-tingling crime novels. She has created three ongoing series as well as several stand-alone thrillers and has been praised consistently for the quality of her writing and the force of her imagination. "McDermid was a journalist for almost 15 years, and her training shows in her fast-moving plots and crisp style," observed Anna-Marie Taylor in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers. On the Spinsters Ink Web site, Sharon Silvas wrote: "The psychology of the crime fiction or murder mystery or sleuth novel is that it takes the reader's mind through a maze of characters, events, multiple suspects and possible solutions. It raises the tension and, more often than not, surprises the reader at the end with that unexpected, quirky solution-satisfying at last, but leaving the reader with a hunger for more. For mystery readers that 'high' is a drug that must be fed. When we find a good writer, we must have more of their work. That is why Val McDermid is successful. She's good at her craft."
In an interview on the Black Raven Press Web site, McDermid described herself as a "working class lassie from a wee Scottish mining town." Growing up she split her time between her parents' home in Kirkaldy and her grandparents' home in the mining village of East Wemyss. She loved to read and write, and she found encouragement from her school teachers, who predicted success. The predictions rang true when she was accepted at age seventeen to St. Hilda's College, Oxford—one of the youngest undergraduates ever, and the very first from a Scottish state-run school. She graduated with a degree in English in 1975 and went to work as a journalist, an occupation she would follow until 1991. Part of that time she was a bureau chief for a Sunday tabloid, a position that afforded her great opportunities to follow true crime stories.
Even during her years as a journalist McDermid worked on creative projects. One of her first was a literary novel that she successfully turned into a play titled Like a Happy Ending. She turned to writing crime novels after reading Sara Paretsky's Indemnity Only. "Here was someone writing something I'd never seen before—a mystery with an urban setting that dealt with contemporary women's lives, that didn't shy away from engaging with the politics of the society it reflected," McDermid said in an interview published on her Web site. "I knew I'd found the right niche for my own imagination then and there."
McDermid's first series character, Lindsay Gordon, is a self-described "cynical socialist lesbian feminist journalist." McDermid admits that Lindsay is modeled on her own life, but has a personality that is pure fiction. "I wrote about a journalist because I had no idea how police investigate a murder, but I knew how journalists do their job," the author told a Publishers Weekly contributor. "I was talking about something I knew about and was less likely to make errors." Lindsay tends to court danger, most often at the urging of friends or lovers who are in harm's way. She also confronts important social issues, from union corruption and peace protests to the politics of book publishing. In the Women's Review of Books, reviewer Kathy Phillips noted: "McDermid knows how to plant the obvious and not-so-obvious clues and red herrings in the best British tradition while weighing in with swipes at the presumptions of class and expectations of certain kinds of English society. And it is seldom possible to lose sight of the fact that Lindsay is an outsider in all senses of the word, a position both familiar and comfortable to the lesbian and to the amateur sleuth. It's an interesting perspective for McDermid to have taken."
Kate Brannigan, McDermid's second series heroine, is a detective in the northern English town of Manchester. Feisty and profane, a kick boxer by avocation, Branningan is usually strapped for cash and at wit's end with her boyfriend, a rock music critic named Richard Barclay. As Kevin Allman put it in the Lambda Book Report, Kate "has imperfections by the dozens and problems in spades." Some of Kate's adventures invoke amusement, as when she is hired by a Scottish punk band to discover why goons are breaking up their gigs. At other times she and Richard are severely imperiled by desperately violent criminals. A Publishers Weekly critic observed that Kate "must navigate her way through power plays, unsavory associations and divided loyalties." Stuart Miller in Booklist declared that all of the Brannigan books "feature skillful plotting, fast pacing, and a winning heroine." Washington Post Book World correspondent Maureen Corrigan described Kate as "a cheeky addition to the growing sisterhood of crime … a whirling dervish of tough toes and fine prose."
The terrifying exploits of serial killers forms the foundation of several McDermid novels, especially those featuring Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan and psychologist Tony Hill. Hill is a profiler who tries to predict the actions of serial killers before they can strike again. In a twist on the concept of the hard-boiled gumshoe, Hill shows proficiency in profiling criminal minds because of his own deep character flaws. McDermid's "Carol Jordan/Tony Hill" crime series also features some of the author's most grisly writing. In the Gold Dagger Award-winning The Mermaids Singing, for instance, the killer's torturemurders are described in vivid detail in journal entries interspersed throughout the book. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found The Mermaids Singing "more complex, more carefully crafted and far more disturbing" than McDermid's previous works. Gilbert Taylor in Booklist described the novel as "a satisfying descent into the territory of a twisted mind."
Similar gruesome murders occur in The Last Temptation, as Jordan and Hill are drawn into a web of deceit that stretches from Great Britain into Berlin and the Netherlands. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel "a psychologically chilling and multifaceted thriller." Similarly, Eugen Weber in the Los Angeles Times Book Review wrote of The Last Temptation: "Relentless, electric and absorbing, this is a thriller not to miss." In 2002 the "Carol Jordan/Tony Hill" series was adapted for a six-part BBC Television series titled The Wire in the Blood.
McDermid has won multiple awards for her standalone novel A Place of Execution. Set in the fictitious English village of Scardale, the book explores the murder of a teenaged girl whose body is never found. The officers who are sent to investigate meet with steely resistance from the townspeople, who are all interrelated. A suspect is brought to justice, tried, found guilty, and executed. Only later, when a journalist decides to write a book about the crime, does evidence cast a new light on the crime and the behavior of the detectives who investigated it. As the events unfold, the implications of the murder resonate through new generations of villagers and those who know them. According to Connie Fletcher in Booklist, the novel "brings some cunning new twists to the psychological-suspense genre." In the Wall Street Journal, Tom Nolan called the book "inventively conceived and wonderfully written … a marvel from start to finish." Crescent Blues Book Reviews contributor Maria Y. Lima concluded that A Place of Execution "deserves a place on any 'best reads' list.… I highly recommend it to lovers of terrific storytelling."
As Karen G. Anderson put it in January Online, McDermid "ranks high among the growing number of crime fiction authors who are carving out a sort of 'British noir'—a subgenre in which the morality of the investigators' behavior is often more in question than that of the criminals'." Popular on both sides of the Atlantic, the author continues to produce new fiction at a steady rate despite a full schedule of traveling—McDermid has appeared at crime writers' conventions everywhere from the American Midwest to Russia. Anna-Marie Taylor concluded that McDermid "has blended ironic observation, exciting action, and her own social and political commitment to provide crime fiction that is not only very pleasurable to read but is also able to engage with the darker reality of living in [modern] Britain."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Booklist, November 1, 1994, Stuart Miller, review of Crack Down, p. 481; October 1, 1995, Whitney Scott, review of Common Murder, p. 254; November 1, 1995, Wes Lukowsky, review of Clean Break, p. 457; December 15, 1996, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Mermaids Singing, p. 713; February 1, 1997, Emily Melton, review of Blue Genes, p. 928; August, 2001, Emily Melton, review of Killing the Shadows, p. 2098; July, 2002, Emily Melton, review of The Last Temptation, p. 1826; August, 2003, Connie Fletcher, review of The Distant Echo, p. 1963.
Entertainment Weekly, October 24, 2003, Jeff Jensen, review of The Distant Echo, p. 110.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2003, review of The Distant Echo, p. 1049.
Lambda Book Report, April, 1997, Kevin Allman, review of Blue Genes, p. 33; March, 2000, Lynne Maxwell, "Serial Detectives at Work," p. 26.
Library Journal, October 1, 2003, Jane La Plante, review of The Distant Echo, p. 122.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 8, 2002, Eugen Weber, review of The Last Temptation, p. 28.
New York Times Book Review, September 10, 2000, Marilyn Stasio, review of A Place of Execution, p. 38.
Publishers Weekly, July 26, 1993, review of Kickback, p. 61; September 25, 1995, review of Clean Break, p. 46; October 28, 1996, review of The Mermaids Singing, p. 61; August 12, 2002, review of The Last Temptation, p. 279; Louise Jones, "PW Talks with Val McDermid," p. 280; September 8, 2003, review of The Distant Echo, p. 59.
Times Literary Supplement, June 25, 1993, Patricia Craig, review of Kickback, p. 24; August 25, 1995, review of Clean Break, p. 22; November 17, 1995, Natasha Cooper, review of The Mermaids Singing, p. 26; December 20, 1996, review of Booked for Murder, p. 24; November 14, 1997, Natasha Cooper, review of The Wire in the Blood, p. 24; October 16, 1998, Natasha Cooper, review of Star Struck, p. 24; March 1, 2000, Patricia Craig, review of The Last Temptation, p. 23.
Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2000, Tom Nolan, review of A Place of Execution, p. A42.
Washington Post Book World, August 15, 1993, Maureen Corrigan, "In It for the Lolly," p. 6; October 22, 1995, Kathi Maio, review of Clean Break, p. 8; January 19, 1997, review of The Mermaids Singing, p. 11.
Women's Review of Books, July, 1998, Kathy Phillips, "On the Outside Edge," pp. 32-33.
Black Raven Press Web site,http://www.blackravenress.com/ (May 2, 2003), Chris Aldrich, "Val McDermid: A Working Class Lassie from a Wee Scottish Mining Town."
January Online,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (May 2, 2003), Karen G. Anderson, "Brilliant Execution."
Mystery Ink Online,http://www.mysteryinkonline.com/ (May 2, 2003), Fiona Walker, review of Killing the Shadows and The Last Temptation.
Scottish Books for a Rainy Day Web site,http://claymore.wisemagic.com/scotradiance/ (May 2, 2003), Sharma Krauskopf, review of The Mermaids Singing.
Spinsters Ink Web site,http://www.spinsters-ink.com/ (May 2, 2003), Sharon Silvas, "Val McDermid: The Mistress of Sleuth."
Val McDermid Web site,http://www.valmcdermid.com (May 2, 2003).*