Ayo Onatade is an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction. She has been writing reviews, interviews and articles on the subject for the last 12 years; with an eclectic taste from historical to hardboiled, short stories and noir films
As much as I have always enjoyed Val McDermid's series books it is in my opinion her standalone books that showcase how good a writer she is. A Trick of the Dark is no exception. Val McDermid is not one to shy away from different situations nor is she the type of writer that uses a situation to fill up pages. In this case it is academic life that has come under her scrutiny.
At the heart of the book is a murder; that of Philip Carling who has been brutally murdered on his wedding day purportedly by his two business partners. But did they and why would they have done so? Could it have been his wife Magda's partner or even the successful but ruthless businesswoman Jay Macallan Stewart? The possibilities are rife.
The vicious murder happened on the grounds of St Scholastica's the alma mater of disgraced psychiatrist Charlie Flint. Flint sent anonymously a bundle of press cuttings soon unexpectedly finds herself involved in investigating Carling's death. St Scholastica's does not inhabit the same milieu that readers are used to in Colin Dexter's Morse series. It does however still have the rivalry and jealousy that can be found amongst academic life and it is not always behind closed doors.
Taking on Oxford as a background is also a challenge, which in my opinion McDermid has done with vigour and insight. As can be expected contemporary questions are examined in Trick of the Dark
. How to balance a private life with that of a celebrity one as well? Is it easy to combine the two and how does one cope with the pressures that this gives rise to? How to cope with the life style and the fact that the relationship is a lesbian one and therefore an easier target for the press who will do anything to slake their reader's taste for scandal. McDermid very ably deals with the various issues that arise as a result of the murder and Flint's involvement. She also, without a hint of self-righteousness or pretension deals with the difficulties that arise when coming out as a lesbian woman and the effect that it has on a professional and personal life.
The best thing about McDermid's novels aside from the smooth, succinct and absorbing writing, which is par for the norm with Val McDermid, is the way in which she is able to engage the reader from the start. It is a technique that only the best can do and McDermid is one of the best. The title is a misnomer but do not let that distract you from absorbing yourself in a brilliant psychological thriller. From start to finish the Trick of the Dark
is a novel that will leave you pondering and wishing for more.