I'd already read a number of books by Scottish author Val McDermid, which I all enjoyed a lot. I'm a big fan of crime novels anyway, so there's already a lot to like about McDermid's books. Add to this the fact that I loved the Wire in the blood TV series, so when I came across The Mermaids singing (1995), the first book in the Wire in the blood series, I just had to read it.
Reading a book after you've seen a TV or movie adaptation is always hard, as you already know the general plot and what the characters are like and look like. However, it is so much better than the other way around: seeing an adaptation after you read a book. This is because a book can give you so much more detail and let's you use your imagination to make the story your own.
In this case, the fact that I had seen the TV series did not really affect my reading much. I did already know what was going to happen, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book's detailed descriptions of the story.
The story in short is about the police in Bradfield being confronted with a serial killer, one who gets their rocks of by torturing victims with ancient torture devices. To help them solve the case, the police bring in Tony Hill, a very good, but very odd, clinical psychologist, who is very experienced in profiling.
Of course, the police are reluctant to let him in, but soon they realize that they are in over their heads. Together they spend day and night trying to catch the killer, while he keeps killing man after man in the most brutal ways.
I love Tony Hill, he's such a weird, conflicted, socially awkward, but intelligent and interesting guy, that gives the story a kind of debt it would've lacked without him and the glimpse into his mind. The other main characters are great too, well not the dumb ignorant cops, but the slightly more intelligent ones, especially the female detective whose name I seem to have forgotten.
I would say it's a good crime novel, not a great or outstanding one. Even though it's good, I've read better. Then again, I wouldn't say it was average either. The main criticism I have is about the plot.
With the risk of giving away too many spoilers, the story is set in the gay area of Bradfield, and consequently, a lot of the novel deals with homophobic police, which isn't always that fun to read. In addition, a screwed up transsexual serial killer is a bit over the top, very Silence of the lambs. Then again, McDermid being gay and all, we can assume she had no intention to make the LGBT community look bad or anything like that.
In sum, this book has got everything a got crime novel needs: a serial killer on the lose, and interesting, intelligent and conflicted characters to try and catch the bad guy. Add to this the fact that it's all well written, and fast paced, which I always appreciate. The Mermaids singing is a good crime novel I would recommend to anyone who's a fan of the genre.
This review was written as part of the LGBT reading challenge over at Book after Book and the GLBT Reading challenge 2011.