Admirers of the crime writer Val McDermid are a touch sniffy about the TV series Wire in the Blood — rightly so. Onscreen, McDermid’s damaged criminal profiler Tony Hill is reduced to a rather bland copper in the hands of the actor Robson Green. Hill on the page is a much more multi-faceted character — and if you need persuading, Fever of the Bone is a salutary reminder of the superiority of the printed page over the dumbed-down visual image.

McDermid (the recipient of the Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010) crams more trenchant social observations into her thrillers than many a literary novelist. Her subject here is topical: the dangers of social networking sites.

A serial killer is cutting a swath through the internet, grooming his youthful victims with an almost preternatural skill before luring them out to be murdered and mutilated. On his trail, beleaguered DCI Carol Jordan is up against a brick wall — but this time she is not able (officially, at least) to draw on the professional services of Dr Tony Hill; a bumptious new chief constable has read the riot act to her about the expense of such glamorous figures. Jordan’s drinking, and doubts about her relationship with Hill, complicate matters further, and Hill, in turn, has his own problems.

McDermid has been criticised for her unblinking treatment of the depths of human psychopathology. These indictments may be levelled at her for Fever of the Bone, but it is a sine qua non of her writing that — however gruesome her subject matter (here, genital mutilation) — she addresses such material with total rigour. The serial killer scenario today is perhaps in need of a moratorium, but McDermid is a writer who still shakes every possibility out of it like loose nails.

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