Tony Hill is as fascinating a psychologist as you’ll ever want to meet. His almost supernatural ability to get into the heads of criminals belies his kind heart and complex past. As a rule, I’m not a crier when I’m reading, but some of the scenes with Tony in THE RETRIBUTION brought be awfully close, which is saying a lot about both that story and those that preceded it, each of which made me a bit more attached to Dr. Hill. I was nervous when I asked Val McDermid if Tony would answer some questions, mostly because he is one of my favorite characters, and I am eternally grateful for her help!
Your relationship with your parents is…complicated. Is there a fictional parent-child relationship you particularly admire?
I’ve never been one for reading fiction. Reality has more than enough drama for me. But when I was a kid I read every superhero comic I could get my hands on. Looking back, I envy Superman both his birth parents and his adoptive ones. Jor-El and Kara sacrificed themselves to save their infant son, and the Kents gave him love, a moral code and a fabulous costume. He grew up knowing he’d been doubly loved. And the sense of duty he learned in small town America meant he used his powers for good without ever resenting it. The bond they all shared is something most families aspire to.
What’s your favourite colour?
For what? Most of my wardrobe is dark — black, grey, navy, dark green. But the interior of my house is painted white. I think blue works well for the sky, green for the grass. It’s horses for courses, isn’t it? I’d have to admit I don’t possess anything orange. It’s always struck me as an unpleasantly strident colour. I think it may have something to do with the colour of lipstick my mother wore when I was small.
You face the darkest aspects of human nature, those which would give many of us nightmares. Does anything frighten you to your core?
Not on my own account. I fear for the people I care about because most of them have the kind of job that exposes them to serious risk. So when I know they are in close pursuit of someone who is capable of terrible things, then I fear for them. Because I know very well what their antagonists are capable of.
Do you vote?
I think it’s a moral obligation. People have died to give the likes of me the chance to express my preference at the ballot box. But I think most politicians are even more deeply flawed than I am, so I tend to cast my vote for one of the minority parties. If you stand for election for a party that has no chance of being elected, I suspect your motives are more admirable. And I also get the chance to stake out the moral high ground, whoever ends up in government. (Yes, I know… I am a psychologist, after all)
Is there anywhere you have never been but would love to visit?
I’m not much of a traveller. But if you could arrange time AND space for me, I’d quite like to go back to Vienna around 1910, when Freud and Jung were both developing their theories of the self. If would be interesting to challenge them in the light of present-day opinions. And just to listen to their own accounts of their ideas.
Was there a specific moment when you realised that criminal psychology is your calling?
When I was studying for my undergraduate degree, I grew quite uneasy when we came to consider criminal psychology, particularly in relation to serial offenders. I could see my background and upbringing shared a lot of common elements with serious repeat offenders, particularly rapists and murderers. But I knew I wasn’t a rapist or a killer. I knew I wasn’t suppressing those desires either. After a lot of soul-searching, I decided I knew where the crucial divergence had come. But I still felt as if I was very close psychologically to what had shaped those criminals. I wanted to help them understand themselves and maybe work with them to find a route towards redemption or rehabilitation. I know that sounds like a pipe dream, but I do believe that none of us lacks all humanity.
If someone came to you having encountered a person who has obvious criminal tendencies, would you suggest he or she go to the police or a mental health professional for help and advice?
It depends on your relationship to them. Of course, you can’t report someone to the police because you think they might commit a crime, only if you know for certain what their plans are. Without concrete information, there’s nothing the police can do. I’d say if you’re close to the person, you should try to persuade them to seek counselling or some sort of behavioural therapy. You’ll probably fail, however. If you’re in an abusive relationship, the best thing for both of you is for you to walk away. No, make that run away.
Do you have any interest in sport? Any teams or athletes you admire?
I understand the semiotics of sport in bonding, particularly between males. So I make sure I know enough to contribute to the conversation. I enjoy football occasionally, and I support Bradfield Victoria, the premier league football club in the city where I’ve lived and worked for most of the last dozen years. What I really enjoy is computer gaming. Tomb Raider, Skyrim, that sort of thing. I’m not much of a team player, so I never really got on with World of Warcraft.