In Trick of the Dark, McDermid once again captivates with her clever mix of murder and social issues, filling her chapters with besotted women who fall in and out of love. There are plenty of evil deeds to go around as
the gutsy protagonist, clinical psychiatrist Dr. Charlie Flint, is hired by her
old Oxford tutor Corinna Newsom to investigate a cold-blooded death on the grounds of the college.
With Charlie’s reputation and career in tatters, she's surprised to receive in the post a bundle of photocopied press cuttings. Sent by Corinna, the cuttings talk of Paul Barker and Joanna Sanderson’s murder trial at the Old Bailey. Both Paul and Joanna reportedly killed their business partner Philip Carling by smashing his skull then drowning him on his wedding day at St. Scholastica’s college. Magda, Corinna’s impressionable daughter, was to be Phillip’s new wife.
Corinna is a committed Catholic who, together with her husband, has an uneasy relationship with homosexuality. She resents the fact that Magda is running around with Jay Macallan Stewart, an independent and successful web entrepreneur who has gone to great lengths to distance herself from her abusive childhood and her drug-addicted mother. Corinna is sure Jay committed the heinous crime and that Paul and Joanna have been framed. She’s also convinced that Jay, with all of her “lesbian silliness,” has hijacked her precious daughter.
The kaleidoscope keeps turning in this tale of vague suspicions. Charlie travels to Oxford because Corinna needs her help, the woman's desire to protect Magda paralleling Charlie’s own desperate need for something that will make her feel good. Charlie is currently with her partner Maria, but adding further fuel to the fire is Charlie's propensity for passionate adventure, manifested in her current obsession with the gorgeous Lisa Kent, who seems to be holding Charlie in the grip of something beyond her control.
As Charlie tries to conjure up the summer wedding that ended so violently, her gifts for investigation and resolution raise more questions than answers. Corinna is positive she
saw Jay one morning fifteen years ago when Jess Edward, Jay’s college nemesis, was brutally murdered. Jay’s rapid-fire ambition was being dangerously thwarted by Jess’s dirty-tricks campaign. Challenged by the fact that she has to gather evidence to build a case, Maria tells Charlie to stop beating herself up and either find evidence against Jay or exonerate her.
McDermid shapes her story around Jay’s “misery memoir” as Jay waxes lyrical about her new life with Magda. The author works her trademark alchemy, exposing Jay’s insecure, conflicted nature and the fears that for years
have seemed to "squat in the back of her mind." When violence propels the action from Oxford to the Isle of Skye to the bleak seaside town of Toker, Charlie’s resourcefulness takes center stage as she reads Jay’s memoir, hugging its secret knowledge and its twists and turns to herself.
Exploring the effects of religious bigotry, Corrina’s desperate need to protect Magda is juxtaposed with Charlie’s desire to prevent a killer
from walking free to take more lives. McDermid's hallmark - her gutsy mix of women and complex plotting
- always entertains, the novel a tour-de-force of secrets, desires, and very human flaws.