I’m experiencing a little bit of what is commonly referred to as ‘feminist burn-out’. So I’ve been reading a lot so far this month to try and distract myself from the burning issues, such as ‘why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?’ There is, by the way (you’d know that if you looked). Or, ‘you’re not a real feminist because you don’t recognise XYZ’.
I go through phases sometimes; I read every second I can spare and then other times I don’t read anything. February was a bit of a dry month for me in that respect. I have an irritating habit of starting books (with the best of intentions) and then don’t get round to finishing them for AGES; by that time, suffice to say, I have mostly forgotten all the preceding action. Dang and blast!
This month (so far) has taken me down a bit of a different route, reading-wise.
My mum has traditionally read a lot of crime fiction and for a long time I didn’t really fancy it. I don’t know why. I mean, I don’t really prejudice against genre (though you’re not really going to catch me tucking into a Mills and Boon anytime soon) but I would say that it was off my reading radar.
So I was casually watching Wire in the Blood one day on Netflix when I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a certain someone bearing an uncanny resemblance to Val McDermid loitering around as a journalist in one scene. In fact, it was her. I am very late to this party okay, folks. The series first aired in 2002 when I was 16 and probably out getting drunk somewhere.
Tweeting my incredulity at my eagle-eyed observation (again, late to the party), I was quite thrilled to receive a response from the women herself. So then I went out and bought ALL THE BOOKS (erm…three).
A serial killer is at large in the fictional northern town of Bradfield. The killer is targeting young professional men, torturing them and then dumping them in various gay hotspots around the city. The victims are brutalised in the most vicious way; causing the police to enlist the help of psychologist Dr Tony Hill. DI Carol Jordan, very much a woman in a man’s world, is ordered to assist Tony so that he can construct a profile of the killer; someone who Tony dubs ‘Handy Andy’. As the killings escalate in their ferocity, it becomes clear to Carol and Tony that they are dealing with the most unlikely of suspects…
I watched the TV show first which can sometimes ruin the book it was based on in the eyes of the reader, but for me, it gave that extra bit of clarity; especially the much-needed insight into the mind of a killer for a start (something which cannot be effectively portrayed on-screen) and some essential background on the lives of Carol and Tony.
Carol Jordan is a character that challenges the gendered status quo that exists in the world of law enforcement; she gives wry observations of the contradictions that exist in her world:
‘Somehow, it was acceptable for young male officers to throw up when they were confronted with victims of violent death. They even got sympathy. But in spite of the fact that women were supposed to lack bottle anyway, when female officers chucked up on the margins of crime scenes they instantly lost any respect they’d ever won and became objects of contempt, the butts of locker-room jokes from the canteen cowboys’.
Carol and Tony’s relationship is a difficult subject to broach. It’s obvious that they develop feelings for one another, but both are married to their work and Tony’s crippling emotional issues and resulting erectile dysfunction throw a spanner in the works. It soon becomes clear that Carol and Tony will not run off into the sunset together.
All in all, I really enjoyed The Mermaids Singing; there is some great analysis of gender and sexuality and the fact that Carol Jordan even exists is testament to the strength of lead female characters in crime fiction. She reminds me a little of Clarice Starling; an irony that is not lost on Val McDermid when Carol Jordan and her brother go off to the cinema to watch a double-bill feature of Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs.
I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the Tony Hill series, The Wire in the Blood. Watch this space, folks!
I have also just finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn in a record amount of time so there will be a review coming up on that at some point next week.
Anyway, a massive thank you to Val McDermid for being a proper legend and tweeting back the ridiculous fan-girl that I am. I promise not to talk about it any more *collective sigh of relief from friends and associates*.