4 de gener del 2014

Val McDermid: 'It requires real guts to be a police officer'

[The Telegraph, 4 january 2014]

Val McDermid's hugely successful crime novels show the brutal cost of enforcing the law

Photo: Jonathan Hordle

Jake Kerridge

I sometimes find myself wishing that the police officers I read about in the newspapers bore more resemblance to Val McDermid’s regular heroine DI Carol Jordan, who, dysfunctional though she may be, always knows the difference between right and wrong. But of course brave and honourable police officers are not confined to the pages of fiction, as a visit to the National Police Memorial on The Mall, London, will confirm.
It is an appropriate place to meet McDermid, a writer who examines the physical and mental toll exacted on police officers with a rare realism. In her latest novel, Cross and Burn, psychological profiler Tony Hill (as played by Robson Green in television’s Wire in the Blood) is still limping around after being set on with an axe four books ago, a colleague has been blinded in an acid attack, and there is a sense that all the police characters feel the job sucking away at them like quicksand the moment they try to lead a normal life for a few hours.
As the tall glass column glitters in the sun – it was intended by the memorial’s architect Norman Foster to represent the blue lamp that used to hang outside every British police station – McDermid inspects the granite block that houses a roll of honour listing 1,600 police officers killed in the line of duty since the 17th century. “It’s very moving. It’s striking how many of these deaths are almost incidental, you know, the opposite of serendipitous. Just somebody who was in the wrong place at the wrong moment, and now they’re just not there anymore at all. It’s a hell of a price to pay.”
And, as she makes clear in her books, a hell of a price for the survivors too. “I got beaten up once when I was a journalist, and I’m fed up of reading all these crime novels where the hero gets beaten up and the next day they’re leaping out of bed all gung-ho and ready to roll. All I wanted to do was pull the covers over my head and never go out the house again. And imagine how much worse it is when you’ve been out on a job with your partner and they’ve been killed in the course of duty, and you’ve got to get up the next day and somehow go through all that all over again. It requires real guts and steel. But police officers just have to develop a kind of second skin. And I think that is not necessarily a healthy thing for them or their personal relationships.”
McDermid has talked to many police officers over the years. “I’m more interested in what I call in my head the sociology of the job, what it’s like to be a police officer, than in police procedure. I mean, accuracy is overrated. The more technical details you pile on, the more tedious the books become. And if you care about the quality of your prose, your sentences, you’re probably better off not describing the exact breakdown of a particular automatic weapon.”
McDermid, 58, is the queen of the so-called Tartan Noir writers as indisputably as haggis is great chieftain of the pudding race. To this Sassenach her accent sounds, to quote a description of one character’s Scottish brogue in her new novel, of “the honey-seductive rather than the half-brick aggressive sort”. Her default mode is wry and twinkling, although she gets more animated when the subject of violence comes up.
“I spend a long time trying to make sure I stay on the right side of being gratuitous in my books. So I do get p----- off when I’m portrayed as the go-to girl for talking about women and violence. Because I am so far from the extreme end of the spectrum!” True, McDermid avoids grisly details; what she does is “set the hare running in the reader’s mind”.
But can she see why some people might be dismayed that Cross and Burn, however well written and thought-provoking, should take as its subject a serial killer who rapes and tortures women? “Yes, but I also give readers strong women who they can aspire towards; I’m not just writing about vulnerable victims. So women readers may well have this frisson of fear, but there’s also the consolation of possibility.”
I wonder if McDermid feels more frissons of fear now, after a recent incident in which she had ink thrown over her at a book-signing.The culprit was a pensioner who claimed that McDermid had written something unflattering about her in the Eighties.
“It was very distressing, very frightening, but… I feel relatively calm about it. Over the years I’ve met hundreds, thousands of readers who are there because they like your work and they want to tell you what it’s meant to them. Balance that against one person who’s got the hump, it’s no contest.”
McDermid laughs as she recalls the response of her local police force in Northumberland. “A policeman rang me up about a week after the initial incident, and said 'I see you’re doing an event in Newcastle tonight. Don’t worry, I think you’ll probably be all right because I’ve confiscated her bus pass.’ ” Now there’s a story to restore your faith in the police.

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