The Wire in the BloodThe trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars

[from T.S. Elliot’s Four Quartets]

This psychological crime chiller may have been written by a woman, but that doesn’t mean I was expecting it to depart significantly from the run-of-the-mill in its treatment of gender.

I was not far wrong. The people in positions of power in the novel – the hero, psychological profiler Tony Hill, the killer, and the police officers (clueless plods, but they are the clueless plods in control) heading up the “official” enquiries and refusing to take Hill seriously – are all men. The women play supporting roles. The victims are young, attractive, foolish, starstruck teenaged girls who have “something sexual” about them which is their downfall (not that we’re blaming the victim here, are we?) The women are at least real people, with three dimensions and everything. My goodness there are even some lesbians in the story. But that doesn’t rescue it from its hopelessly formulaic stereotypes and its perpetuation of the woman-in-danger-(and-it’s-her-own-fault) mindset that does us all so much harm.

It wasn’t so awful. It was, for its genre, pretty well-written and the whole tense murder hunt story is done very well. I read it to the end and even felt myself stirred by the characters’ dilemmas. It’s just so depressing that even a good woman writer like McDermid is clearly bound to these harmful stereotypes so precious to the genre. Sigh.

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