Crime Fiction Alphabet: V is for Val McDermid

Until now I’ve steered clear of reading any of Val McDermid‘s books and the reason is that I can’t stand to watch the violence and torture scenes in TV series such as Wire in the Blood. But recently I’ve been thinking that maybe I wasn’t being fair to judge a writer’s work on films based on the books. So I decided to check out a Val Mcdermid book from the library to see for myself.

There are many to choose from but I picked the shortest one, thinking if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t waste much time reading it.

Cleanskin is one of the Quick Reads series, aimed at “adults who’ve stopped reading or find reading tough, and for regular readers who want a short, fast read.” 

Summary (adapted from the back cover where Jack Farrell is erroneously called Jack Farlowe!):

When career criminal, Jack Farrell’s body is found washed-up on a Suffolk shore, it looks to the police like a clear-cut case. Broken-hearted at his daughter’s death, he has drowned himself – good riddance and one less crime to solve, according to CID. Then again, maybe not. For, one by one, Farrell’s enemies are being killed. And the horrific manner of their deaths makes drowning look like a day at the beach!

My thoughts:

Val McDermid’s style in this long short story is clear, straight-forward and chatty. The narrator is DCI Andy Martin. He’s the world expert on Jack Farrell, a criminal known as a ‘cleanskin‘ because he had no criminal record:

Farrell’s crew ran just about every dirty racket you could think of: drugs, guns, hookers, porn. You name it they were into it. They bought and sold human lives like they were bargains on eBay. (page 2)

Martin identifies Farrell’s body from the vivid tattoos still visible on his battered and bloated body. Being a novella the action is fast paced, the characters are briefly sketched and although I had worked out some of the mystery, the final dénouement came as a surprise. And there is a certain amount of  graphic description of the gruesome methods of killing and torture, so I’m still not sure about reading any of Val McDermid’s other books.

Can anyone recommend where I should start – bearing in mind that I am squeamish?


  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; World Book Day edition edition (18 May 2006)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0007216726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007216727
  • Source: Borrowed from the library

A Crime Fiction Alphabet post – for more posts featuring the letter V see Kerrie’s blog.

5 thoughts on “Crime Fiction Alphabet: V is for Val McDermid

  1. Margaret – Nice choice for “V.” I know what you mean about not wanting to indulge in a bloodbath as you read. I don’t care for that, either. I’ve read a few of her books that weren’t as violent as others (The Grave Tattoo is one), but everyone’s definition of “too violent” is different…


  2. I haven’t read any of her books for exactly the same reason, but I feel that I should as she’s a local author. I tend to stick to vintage crime as they aren’t so gory, or Ian Rankin, another local. I’ll give Cleanskin a go to start off with!


  3. Her older series featuring Kate Brannigan is far from gory. I think there is a bit of Kinsey Millhone in Brannigan, and the series is almost cosy. I have reviewed two of them – very entertaining stories with an intelligent, female protagonist.


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