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The Last Temptation    by Val McDermid order for
Last Temptation
by Val McDermid
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Val McDermid has written several serial killer stories since her huge success with the psychological thriller A Place of Execution. Though I enjoyed her Kate Brannigan series very much, I have found the partnership of profiler Tony Hill with detective Carol Jordan even more engaging. They first worked together in The Wire in the Blood and again in The Mermaids Singing. In the latter, Tony Hill was tortured by celebrity killer Jacko Vance, and barely escaped with his life. Vance is now appealing his life sentence.

Tony's semi-retirement to a professorial position in St. Andrews and a comfortable liaison with a local teacher, is interrupted by a call from Carol. She needs his help with a role-play assignment, supposedly a test for promotion to an intelligence position as Europol Liaison Officer. With Tony's help, Carol succeeds in passing the test, but doesn't get the job that she expected. Instead she's asked to work undercover in a sting operation aimed at ruthless European crime lord Tadeusz Radecki. It seems that Carol closely resembles his beloved Katerina, recently killed in a road accident.

Carol nudges Tony out of retirement as a profiler, and he follows her to an apartment complex in Berlin, where she has assumed the shady role of Caroline Jackson. But the lure that she set for Tony has nothing to do with her present case. Carol's new German partner Petra has uncovered a series of related killings, with help from Dutch colleague Marijke. Experimental psychologists are being targeted across Europe. The reader is introduced to the killer before the profiler begins to get a picture of him - first as an abused child, and then as an adult who seeks revenge for tortures that both he and his grandfather endured.

Tony settles happily back into the role in which he belongs, 'the hunter, sniffing the air for the delicate scent of his prey' while Carol/Caroline role-plays for her life and fights her physical attraction to Tadeusz by touching base often with Tony in his apartment. Working on his case, Tony finds disturbing clues in records of a Nazi 'euthanasia factory' at a castle on the Rhine, Schloss Hochenstein, which bring the killer into focus. Then everything goes awry and both situations explode into violence. At the end, despite scars and betrayals, Carol and Tony both decide to continue to do what they do best.

In The Last Temptation, McDermid has given us another multi-layered chiller, involving both a surprisingly sympathetic serial killer and organized crime. She has also developed the relationship between Carol and Tony, while giving their love life yet another obstacle to surmount, and dropped tantalizing hints that they might not yet be done with Jacko Vance. I can't wait for the next in this excellent series.

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