This is a first-rate crime thriller about a serial killer operating in the fictional northern English town of Bradfield. Home Office psychologist Dr Tony Hill is drafted in to help the police solve four murders in which the bodies, all male, have been horribly disfigured and dumped in public places. While the media whips the town into a frenzy of fear, Dr Hill and the detectives leading the investigation begin to piece together the clues one by one as they endeavour to prevent the killer from striking again.
There is no doubt that McDermid has created a terrifying criminal, very much in the vein of Hannibal Lecter (the cover bills her as "Manchester's answer to Thomas Harris"). The plot, too, is nicely structured and moves along at quite a quick pace. But I found some of the characterisation (apart, of course, from the killer) a little clichéd, especially detective inspector Carol Jordan who is portrayed as a lonely woman much disliked in the male-dominated world of policing, something which seems a little dated nowadays.
Still, this is just a minor quibble, and if you can stomach the nature of the crimes portrayed, then The Mermaids Singing is a very good psychological thriller.