Book: Killing the Shadows

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Killing the Shadows

Author: Val McDermid
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur

A killer is on the loose, blurring the line between fact and fiction. His prey—the writers of crime novels who have turned psychological profilers into the heroes of the nineties. But this killer is like no other. His bloodlust shatters all the conventional wisdom surrounding the motives and mechanics of how serial killers operate. And for one woman, the desperate hunt to uncover his identity becomes a matter of life and death.

Professor Fiona Cameron is an academic psychologist who uses computer technology to help police forces track serial offenders. She used to help the Met, but vowed never to work for them again when they went against her advice and subsequently botched an investigation. Still smarting from the experience, she’s working a case in Toledo when her lover, thriller writer Kit Martin, tells her a fellow crime novelist has been murdered. It’s not her case, but Fiona can’t help taking an interest. When the killer strikes again Fiona finds herself caught in a race against time—not only to save a life but also to find redemption, both personal and professional.

Rich in atmosphere, Killing the Shadows uses the backdrops of city and country to create an air of threatening menace, culminating in a tense confrontation between hunter and hunted, a confrontation that can have only one outcome.


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Val McDermid has earned the attention of discriminating mystery fans on both sides of the Atlantic as a powerfully gifted author best known for her Edgar-nominated A Place of Execution.

Killing the Shadows is her intelligent, highly original reflection on a social—and literary—phenomenon: the serial killer. McDermid’s heroine, Fiona Cameron, is a criminal psychologist haunted by the memory of her sister’s unsolved murder. Fiona works as both a teacher and a freelance police consultant specializing in “geographical profiles” and establishing “linkages” between supposedly independent acts of violence. As Killing the Shadows opens, she finds herself caught up in three ongoing investigations. The first involves the hunt for a serial murderer in Toledo, Spain. The second centers on a controversial unsolved sex crime that took place in London’s Hampstead Heath. The third concerns a series of “literary” murders in which several bestselling thriller writers have been singled out as victims and have been murdered in ways that replicate the content of their own most popular novels.

Since Fiona’s lover, Kit Martin, is one of Britain’s most prominent thriller writers, she finds herself personally involved in a bizarre, unprecedented series of crimes. By the time three well-known novelists have met their grisly ends, she becomes convinced that Kit could be the next logical target. Her desperate attempts to identify the killer and preserve her lover’s life form the central elements of this colorful, convoluted narrative.

Occasionally, Killing the Shadows strains credibility in ways that A Place of Execution never does. There is simply too much going on in this book, and the ultimate rationale behind the central series of murders fails, somewhat, to convince. Even so, McDermid writes with vigor and assurance, and her easy familiarity with a number of arcane subjects—such as recent technological advances in criminal profiling, and the social dynamics of Britain’s insular crime-writing community—is engaging and thoroughly believable. The result is an uneven, occasionally brilliant book by a talented writer whose novels—even the lesser ones—are well worth reading. (Bill Sheehan)

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