The Alibi: A BOOKED ezine Logo

Issue 2, September 27, 2005

Watch BOOKED Investigates Val McDermid's The Torment of Others (all times EST):

  • Saturday, Sept. 24, 8PM on ACCESS Television
  • Tuesday, Sept. 27, 12:30PM and 8:30PM, and Wednesday, Sept. 28, 4AM on BookTelevision
  • Friday, Sept. 30, 9PM on CLT
  • Wednesday, Oct. 5, 7AM, 6PM, and 11PM on CourtTV Canada
Booked Television: September 24 - October 5
BOOKED investigates Val McDermid's The Torment of Others Photo

The Torment of Others by Val McDermid ISBN: 0006394086

BOOKED experts join the fictional team of Detective Carol Jordan and Profiler Tony Hill as they face their toughest case yet - a killer is targeting prostitutes in a series of brutal murders. The murder of prostitutes is a timely and all too familiar story for BOOKED experts. Featuring:

The Expert Lineup Photos
Killer Reviews with Paul Bergen and Barry Hammond
This week The ALIBI is proud to present a new column: Killer Reviews with Paul and Barry. These two 'crime geek' book reviewers are based out of Edmonton, Alberta, and can often be found prowling the aisles of local independent bookstores.
Paul Bergen and Barry Hammond Photos
Article Title: You Write Like a Girl

Paul: Readers are often surprised at the violence and sheer nastiness in Val McDermid’s mysteries yet I have to wonder why. Writers of the "gentle persuasion" have often produced stomach churning descriptions of crime scenes and lovingly laid out the repellant mindset of the murderer…I remember more than one person being repelled enough by Mo Hayder's first book, Birdman, to never read her again.

Barry: Well, I didn’t like Birdman, but it had more to do with her sensationalizing the violence, not the violence per se, and I certainly had no problem with a woman writing it. Women have written mysteries and violent crime books practically since the genre began.

Paul: Are there gender differences in writing? A recent parody of the popular Mars/Venus refrain runs “Men are from Earth, Women are from Earth…Get Over It!!” This could be applied to those typecasting mystery writers. We do have artificial categories of Men's Hard Tough Stuff and Women's Domestic Mysteries but they describe groups of readers rather than the writers who produce it.

Barry: I agree. Women writers have always been involved in writing violent crime. You can take it back pretty nearly to the beginning with Agatha Christie. She wasn’t squeamish about depicting either violent scenes or the violent emotions that produced them. The crimes may have been depicted in genteel settings, but the crimes were still pretty violent.

Paul: Its all about imagination and the willingness to understand deviance and the possible motives behind unthinkable deeds.

Barry: I think there’s a sociological aspect to crime writing. It explores the dark side of society. It tells us what we are afraid of in the same way that horror fiction does, but in a more realistic manner. Writers have nasty imaginations. Take Patricia Highsmith: her first novel, Strangers On A Train, came out in 1950 and was made into the famous Hitchcock film. The interesting thing about Highsmith is that you never know her own take on her characters. They’re always

slightly amoral and unsavory but she doesn’t judge them as a narrator. She just presents them and lets the reader make up their own mind about them, which I find highly appealing.

Paul: If you bring in Kirino’s Out (featured later in the BOOKED Television series) you move up to a slightly tougher yet still subtle Hitchcock-like everyday gruesomeness with just a dash of humour. Or there’s someone like Karin Fossum who though she focuses on character doesn’t shy away from the unsavoury details of the crime scene.
Outside the genre, we have the bestselling The Lovely Bones in which Alice Sebold describes the aftermath of a rape murder from the viewpoint of the child victim. Its an oddly moving book and though not graphic in the slightest, the premise itself kept me from reading the book for a long time. When I finally did I was moved by the almost gentle narrative.

Barry: On the opposite end of the scale are forensic novelists like Kathy Reichs, and Patricia Cornwell or one of my current favorites, Barbara Nadel. She writes about a modern Turkish policeman.

Paul: Gender is one of the red herrings in the ocean of literature…authors write books, readers read them. Whether the books are good are bad is what matters.

Writer Rap Sheet: Val McDermid
Author Val McDermid Photo

"Writers cannibalise everything. We eat everyone else's lives and when we're finished we eat our own. There's the life lived, and then there's the life examined."

Author Val McDermid

Val McDermid grew up in a small town on the East Coast of Scotland.  At 17, she was accepted to read English at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford.  Not only was she one of the youngest undergrads to go to St. Hilda’s, she was the first from a Scottish state school.  “I survived the culture shock of arriving in a place where no one understood a word I said, and seized every experience I could get my hands on,” she writes on her website,

McDermid went on to become a journalist at a time when few women worked in newsrooms.  While she worked as a reporter, she worked on some big true crime stories, such as the Yorkshire Ripper and Moors murders, but she does not use true crime as a base for her books.  “I have a slightly queasy feeling about using real cases because they affect real lives.  It’s treading on the borderlines of exploitation of people’s pain.  As a journalist there are often times when you are driven by the story but as a human being you wonder what you are doing.”

Since becoming a full-time crime writer, Val McDermid has explored the length and breadth of the genre, and shows no signs of slowing down.  Her taste for crime is matched by that of her readers, as she says “In my experience, most crime fiction readers aren’t in it just for the puzzle – they’re interested in the unfolding of the story.  The more mysteries you read, of course, the more likely you are to guess what the ending will be, but if the book is well enough written, that isn’t always a problem.”

Titles by Val McDermid PhotoSelected Books by Val McDermid (click to purchase from Amazon):

The Torment of Others
Hostage to Murder
The Distant Echo
The Last Temptation
Killing the Shadows
A Place of Execution
The Wire in the Blood
Booked for Murder
Blue Genes (on CD)
The Mermaids Singing
Clean Break
A Suitable Job for a Woman
Kick Back
Union Jack

Also by Val McDermid:
Dead Beat
Final Edition
Common Murder
Report for Murder

Talk about Val McDermid or her many excellent books in the Forum.

Case Book: JoAnn McCartney, Court Counsellor for Prostitutes, Retired Vice Cop
JoAnn McCartney Photo
"When I was promoted to Detective and put in the vice unit, the chief of the day said to me 'I want you to get to know those women out there on the street, and I want you to get them to stop.'  At the time, people believed that these women were out there because they wanted to be, that if it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be any prostitution.  The reality is that in 18 years in the field, I’ve met three prostitutes who were happy with their work."
--JoAnn McCartney

A 27-year veteran of the Edmonton Police Service, JoAnn spent 10 years in vice and worked undercover helping to arrest johns and pimps.

“I learned a lot about prostitution from the women that I was working with.  Not only did they teach me about their lives by opening up to me and telling me their stories, they also taught me how to work in five-inch heels, how to put on my makeup.”

After retiring from the police force, JoAnn began to work full-time with PAAFE, the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation of Edmonton.  PAAFE is dedicated to finding long-term solutions to prostitution’s complex issues, and runs programs like “John School”, where men charged with solicitation are educated about the realities of the industry that they support  when they buy sex.

JoAnn’s hands-on experience as a police officer as well as her educational background (she has her Masters in Psychology) gives her tremendous insight into the lives led by women on the street: “For women to leave the street, it’s like leaving one country and moving to another.  The street has its own culture, its own rules and laws, even its own way of speaking.  You have to understand that not everyone is middle-class, with suburban attitudes and values.”  Women who are working in prostitution don’t keep track of the days or times.  They are often homeless, and community pressures keep them transient.  “The “high track” girls, the ones with more education and less addiction, will move from city to city, sometimes trying to get out of the street life, sometimes to prevent anyone from finding, and intervening with, their kids.  But even the ones who don’t leave the city are always on the move.  The community doesn’t want her just standing there on the street, so she keeps walking.”

“The law,” JoAnn says, “can be used for good, not just for punishment.”
Last Words

Coming up on BOOKED Television:

BOOKED investigates Peter Robinson's Strange Affair. Expert lineup for this show: Crime Writer, Janice MacDonald; Member of the Law Enforcement Review Board, Kathy Grieve; Police Detective, John McNeilly; Court Counsellor for Prostitutes, JoAnn McCartney.
Check Broadcast Dates and Times

In the next ALIBI, we meet author Peter Robinson, and talk to expert Jonathan Alston about his work as a criminal intelligence analyst.

Here is the BOOKED booklist, in order:

Strange Affair - Peter Robinson
Out - Natsuo Kirino
Dark Places - Jon Evans
The Closers - Michael Connelly
Blackfly Season - Giles Blunt
Blood Memory - Greg Iles
The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett
Memory Book - Howard Engel
Shock Wave - James O. Born
Cross Bones - Kathy Reichs
He Who Fears the Wolf - Karin Fossum

For more information about the booklist or upcoming shows, visit

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