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Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid
Review by Mel Jacob
Bywater Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781932859959
Date: 13 September 2011 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Read an excerpt / Show Official Info /

Val McDermid, a popular Scottish crime and mystery writer, tackles a complex story involving several lesbian couples and at least one murder in Trick of the Dark. Dr. Charlotte (Charlie) Foot is in disgrace awaiting a review by the General Medical Council because of testimony at a murder trial that freed a man who later killed four women. Charlie had recommended he be sectioned, held in a mental hospital, but the authorities had no cause to do so. She is relegated to teaching a few sixth form classes and waiting. Then, someone sends her clippings about a recent murder.

Maria, Charlie's partner, encourages her to investigate. Charlie soon decides her former mentor Corinna Newsam sent the material and she contacts her. Corinna's daughter Magda is the wife of the deceased man who was murdered on their wedding day. Magda has since taken Jay Macallam Stewart, author and successful dot.com entrepreneur, as her lover. Jay also found the evidence that incriminated the husband's two business partners in the murder.

The novel unwinds in two main strands. One is Charlie's investigation and the second is a misery memoir being written by Jay. Charlie's efforts are complicated by the age and nature of the possible murders Corinna believes Jay committed, as well as by Charlie's infatuation for another woman, Lisa Kent. Lisa plays a complex game with Charlie leaving her uncertain of where she stands.

Charlie is discouraged with a lack of progress and Maria urges her to contact her former pupil, Detective Sergeant Nick Nicolaides. Nick is able to use his position to get information unavailable to Charlie. Soon, they both believe that Jay either committed the murders or hired someone who did one or more of them, but there is insufficient evidence to prove that. Meanwhile, two possible innocents await sentencing for the husband's murder.

The novel was released last year in the U.K. and about half the posted Amazon reviews were negative. I found the novel slow going initially with Charlie spending too much time thinking about Lisa. However, once the investigation began and Jay's memoir started, it gained momentum. McDermid provides both Jay's memoir and her thoughts as she writes it. She provides a twist at the end that will surprise some. The lively nature of the memoir attest to her acclaimed writing skills.

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