How The Dead Speak | Val McDermid

How The Dead Speak book cover


When human remains are discovered in the grounds of an old convent, it quickly becomes clear that someone has been using the site as their personal burial ground…

With the convent abandoned long ago and the remains dating back many years, could this be the work of more than one obsessive killer? It’s an investigation that throws up more questions as the evidence mounts.

After their last case ended catastrophically, disgraced criminal psychologist Tony Hill and traumatised detective Carol Jordan can only watch from afar. As they deal with the consequences of previous actions, someone with a terrifying routine is biding their time – and both Tony and Carol find themselves closer to the edge than they have ever been before.

I’m a fan of Val McDermid, but I wasn’t sure how the author would be able to work Tony and Carol into this newest offering, given how their last story ended. But she grasped the thistle by the thorns and went right in there, with Tony in prison and Carol in therapy.

Yet Val still managed to make them part of the newly reformed ReMIT team, even if they are watching the investigation from the “outside”, while struggling to come to terms with how they got where they are now.

Tony’s journey is gripping

For Tony in particular, the fear he feels in prison is palpable, and yet he not only manages to survive, but almost thrive – even to the point of writing a book about his past work, short passages of which front every chapter in this book. His journey is one of the most enjoyable parts of the book for me.

Bodies unearthed in the grounds of a catholic convent is “bang on trend”, so to speak, and there is a deep undertone of rehabilitation and redemption, especially for Tony and Carol.

I personally found How The Dead Speak to be one of the most enjoyable of Val’s books, since it was less cop-procedural and more introspective as Tony and Carol re-evaluate their lives.

Unsurprisingly, even though he’s in prison, Tony (unwittingly) gives away the solution to the murders about two-thirds of the way through, but nevertheless, it’s still fun to watch how the rest of the team eventually catch up with him.

Flawed and complex characters keep you turning the pages

The book has short, pacey chapters, going back and forth between different character’s points of view, which always keeps things fresh and makes you want to keep reading. Each character is flawed and complex, but as always with Val, very strong and powerfully written – for example, Vanessa, Tony’s mother, is so viscerally nasty that you really want to just punch her in the face!

There is even a new DCI for readers to dislike and so feel more sympathy with the team’s dogged loyalty to Tony and Carol.

I admit it’s a little slow to begin with, but once the ball starts rolling it’s a real page turner. Be warned, there are a couple of rather graphic descriptions of corpses, but then you expect that from Val, don’t you?

It is perfectly possible to read this Tony Hill/Carol Jordan thriller as a stand alone. However, if it’s your first, I bet it won’t be your last, as I’m sure it will inspire you to go and read more of Val’s works.

The ending is less neat than is usual for this author. However, Tony and Carol’s story ends on a hopeful note as they both face a new chapter in their lives.

Could this bring the end of Tony Hill & Carol Jordan, and so a new chapter for Val McDermid too? It will certainly not disappoint her fans.

How the Dead Speak by Val McDermid is published by Little, Brown in hardback, RRP £18.99, and available from Amazon

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Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me