Detective Inspector Carol Jordan is recruited by the National Criminal Intelligence Service, NCIS, to infiltrate a human trafficking ring. Her uncanny resemblance to the mastermind's dead girlfriend ensures she'll have an easy time working her way in, but once inside she's essentially flying solo in a very dangerous situation. Meanwhile, Tony Hill is tiring of his self-imposed retirement and agrees to help with a rogue murder investigation that simultaneously keeps him near Carol. Two female cops who are friends but living in different countries discover a pattern and believe a serial killer is loose and targeting psychologists. But since the murders are happening in different countries, no department is pursuing the serial aspect.Tony comes in to profile the killer, but his work and his proximity to Carol leads to far more than anyone expected.
Val McDermid's Jordan/Hill series is darker and grittier than her Kate Brannigan or Lindsay Gordon series, but she handles it with as much expertise and aplomb as the lighter crime series. McDermid has no reservations about being authentic, about allowing the reader to simply be comfortable. Instead she drives home the brutal reality of depravity and those who inflict it on others.
While THE LAST TEMPTATION, the third book in this series, is uncomfortable, dark and authentic, it is also handled in a respectful presentation. The violence is more often alluded to than graphically detailed and McDermid never even flirts with a level that would be gratuitous. The most unsettling feelings come from your own imagination as McDermid leads the reader to those images.
One of the many qualities I admire about McDermid's writing no matter what the project is her diversity of character. There is a whole spectrum of character types and yet none of them comes across as stereotypical or cardboard. The various antagonists in the novel are most certainly sociopaths but there's more to them than depravity. Carol Jordan is an ambitious law enforcement agent. That ambition is a double-edged sword; it is what allows her to walk right into a con perpetrated by her own colleagues. It's this faithfulness to the whole character that allows a reader to be invested in their exploits and experiences.
McDermid additionally challenges her readers with the themes in THE LAST TEMPTATION. As with the characters, these aren't black and white. There's a look at corruption in law enforcement, the effects of Nazis on the generations to follow World War II, ambition and interpersonal relationships.
THE LAST TEMPTATION isn't for the feint of heart, but it is rich and challenging. McDermid will likely leave you with more questions than answers, but to me, that's the sign of a job well done.
THE LAST TEMPTATION is a Recorded Books audio narrated by Gerald Doyle. It is a well made audio, but I have to say I was a little surprised at the choice to use a male narrator for this book. I think a female narrator would have been a better choice as the primary focus of the novel centered around three women: Carol Jordan, Petra Becker and Marijke van Hasselt. Otherwise, it was an enjoyable audio experience. Doyle does a nice job of setting the dark tone and maintaining the atmosphere, despite some rather challenging scenes.
THE LAST TEMPTATION is available in mass market paperback (ISBN: 978-0-312-98631-5) from St. Martin's and on audio from Recorded Books (ISBN: 978-1-4025-4231-2)