A Review of Killing The Shadows by Val McDermid


I don’t think that I’ve read a book written by Val McDermid before so from the first page it was like starting out in unexplored territory, not knowing what to expect.

The main character in Killing The Shadows is Professor Fiona Cameron, in her late thirties and lives with crime thriller writer Kit Martin in London. She is a psychologist, teaches but also uses computers to build up crime linkage and geographical profiles to help the police in their search for serial killers. She works out where they may physically live and the links between crimes by inputting details into a specially designed programme rather than character profiles, an idea that I find fascinating.

There are several different storylines running alongside each other, multi layered the cover says. That sounds as if the book could be confusing but it wasn’t, for me it added to the tension and made the book more interesting.

One of the sub plots is that Fiona is called to help in the search for a serial killer in Toledo, Spain. Bodies of tourists are found displayed in surroundings important to the history of Toledo and the police are baffled. They have no clues and no ideas as far as motive is concerned. Fiona and Kit fly out to Toledo and Fiona visits the murder scenes. She doesn’t really need to because her work is done on the computer with facts, but her visiting the murder scenes of each case reassures the police who don’t understand how the programme works.

She inputs what facts are available and comes up with an area that the killer probably lives in. She can see that the crimes are against tourists – all armed with the same travel book and points out that this killer must hate tourists and perhaps his or her life has been badly affected by tourism at some point. She then asks for details of older crimes against tourists that haven’t resulted in death. When these crimes are input into the programme she comes up with a different area and suggests that perhaps the killer had moved from that area to the other area and that the reason for the move had angered the killer and that the assaults had accelerated into killings. This is enough information for the police to open new lines of inquiry but I won’t say if they were successful, my aim was to give more idea of the work that Fiona does.

At the same time crime thriller writer Drew Shand is murdered in Edinburgh. His death and the grusome display of his bloody remains are similar to a scene in one of his books. Because Drew is gay and into rough sex it is assumed by the police and media that his death was a sexual encounter gone wrong.

Fiona’s long-time friend Detective Inspector Steve Martin has problems. Susan Blanchard was raped and murdered on Hampstead Heath and the man who was charged with the murder has just been released from the Old Bailey. Freed because the judge said that the case was brought to court through entrapment and little real evidence. Steve needs some help from Fiona when he and his team decide to give up their free time to hunt the murderer, be it the man who was tried or somebody else entirely. The trail has gone cold and so is Fiona initially towards his need for help. She had vowed never to help London Met again after Steve’s superior had taken her off the case and put somebody less competent on it.

Jane Elias, another thriller writer is killed in a similar manner to a victim in one of her books. Her gruesome remains are found on her estate in County Wicklow, Ireland. The police and media believe that it is a copycat killer and don’t link it to the murder in Edinburgh. Despite that Kit and Fiona feel the beginning of fear, and distress because both writers were friends of Kit and they all wrote the same type of novels.

Throughout the book are extracts from a serial killers diary, describing what he does to his victims in an almost matter of fact way that left me shuddering but not feeling sick with the details. The extracts work well in helping to build up suspense and throughout you don’t know whose diary it is.

I found the main character Fiona quite cold and it wasn’t easy to build any empathy with her. She is driven by her sister’s unsolved murder many years earlier. She felt guilty because she had encouraged her to go to University and her choice of career stems from her pain and guilt at the murder. Her relationship with her friends and lover Kit show a warm side to her character but when about her business the coldness is there. Perhaps a defence mechanism against the gruesome nature of her work or maybe Val McDermid couldn’t imagine anything but a cold female in this line of work.

Kit remained a bit of an enigma to me. Maybe because he came across as very ordinary whereas I imagine a best selling author to be quite extraordinary. At times Fiona practically mothers him. You know that it comes from a fear of her losing somebody that she loved in a terrible way but wonder why he doesn’t get irritated more.

Steve comes across as a bit of a lovelorn wimp. Although he has a tough demanding career; unnaturally to me he hangs around with Fiona the woman who he has loved for years and her lover – talk about rubbing your nose in it.

The places that we visit in the book are described well and helped me to picture events more vividly. Scenes in the Scottish Highlands in particular almost made me feel as if I was there watching on.

Did I enjoy the book? So much that I couldn’t put it down and unlike me, missed going on the internet for a whole day in favour of reading it. I managed to complete all 549 pages within 2 days, which is quite a feat for me. It is fast paced and I found it totally compelling. From the first chapter I wanted to know what surprise the next one held and I was absorbed right until the breath taking, exciting conclusion.

I didn’t guess the ending and found Killing The Shadows not totally but less predictable than some of the books that I’ve read recently. Crime thriller novels have never previously been my first choice of reading matter but some of the best books that I’ve read in recent months are of that genre and I would say that this novel is the most outstanding of anything that I’ve read for a long time. Apparently it’s not thought of as the best work by Val McDermid, if that’s the case then I can’t wait to read more of her work.

If you would like to read this book click on Killing The Shadows



I don’t think that I’ve read a book written by Val McDermid before so from the first page it was like starting out in unexplored territory, not knowing what to expect. The main character in Killing The Shadows is Professor Fiona Cameron, in her late thirties and lives with crime thriller writer Kit Martin in London.


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