Having left his old life behind him after a personal tragedy nearly destroyed him, David Hunter finds himself working as a doctor in a remote Norfolk village. Three years later, a body of a woman is found. The body has been bizarrely mutilated and the police require David's help to find the killer, but David is reluctant to dredge up a past he'd left behind. Then a second woman disappears and the village begins to turn on itself. Even David, the village doctor, isn't above suspicion, especially as he's an outsider in the villagers' eyes.
The Chemistry of Death is the first book in the David Hunter series and it's a cracking start to the series. I really enjoyed reading this book.
The story is written from David Hunter's perspective, but every now and then we also get a chapter following a victim. So while this gives the reader a bit of a "head's up" on who the next victim is going to be, it doesn't detract from the story. In fact, I'd say it makes the story more compelling as you find yourself more eager to find out what happens to them. I also felt that I'd come to know David well. He's likable too and at times I felt sorry for him.
As with every good thriller, there are a few twists and turns in the story, especially at the end when not one but two twists in the story really surprised me.
This book is written with well-researched detail of what happens to bodies after death. The story actually starts with a description of decomposition. So, as you can tell, this isn't really a book for those with a weak stomach! Having said that, if you enjoy crime & thriller books then I whole-heartedly recommend this book. The end of the book even contains the 1st chapter of the second book in the series, Written in Bone, as if I needed any further reason to read the rest of the books in the series!
A top notch book!
(Please note: Review also posted on my blog).
I have often heard the phrase, its all been done before, and to a huge extent this is true. Lots of films and books follow the basic outlines the likes of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and even those blokes in the Bible, were writing centuries ago. Music, film, literature and art, is increasingly about putting a new spin onto old ideas. Many things fail to do this, just think of all those mediocre romantic comedies that you have watched where you knew the ending by the fifth minute. However, there is a reason we keep going back to things we know; its comfortable and enjoyable. Every now and again someone takes a well worn genre and manages to realise it so well that it is excellent. Simon Beckett achieves this in his debut novel The Chemistry of Death.
After the tragic death of his wife and child Dr David Hunter is no longer interested in his high stress life style as a leading forensic anthropologist. This is why three years ago he moved to a quiet country village to work as a normal GP. This new life is ripped apart when a womens horribly disfigured corpse is found in a nearby field and the police look to him for help. How could he have known then that his involvement would endanger his life and the lives of the people he knows? When another woman goes missing he has three days to discover her whereabouts or all hell find is her body.
The Chemistry of Death should by all rights be an average read at best. Authors such as Kathy Reichs have been writing crime novels about forensic anthropologists for years and the genre should be done. However, Beckett is a new author, and although he does not add anything to the genre with this book, he writes with such skill that it does not matter. The central story pans out pretty much like any other generic crime thriller, but the journey getting there is more enjoyable than usual as the writing is succinct, characters well developed and twists unseen.
As a massive crime fiction fan I am actually surprised that so many crime novels do not give the reader a chance to work out the motives and murderer themselves. Agatha Christie always allowed this, dropping subtle clues and red herrings throughout her work. However, the majority of other crime authors I read end up just picking some random person with a poor motive. Beckett does not fall into this trap and as a first novel this is very encouraging. Chemistry poses the case for the reader and allows you to begin deciding who you think did it and unlike normally, you may not actually be correct.
As well as having a fantastic mystery the quality of writing is high. I do not know if this is because he has spent so long writing this debut, or whether he is just a talented author. Either way it means that the normal cliché occurrences that crop up in the book are offered in such a good way that you do not mind.
Like any successful crime book their must be a hero that the reader can get behind. They may be good or bad but they must be interesting. Dr Hunter is not the most dynamic of characters but he is well realised and rounded enough that you can not help but like him. We are given enough about his feelings and his past to respect him without being overburdened with information. This balance of facts is brought through when Hunter inspects a crime scene. Rather than bore the reader with the intricate details of a worm, or a fly, Beckett manages to tell us just enough to keep us enthralled.
Crime novels often fail because they lack enough interesting suspects. Beckett once more balances the quality of the case making sure that there are not too many bland throwaway suspects, but enough to keep you guessing. There are around 4/5 top quality suspects in the book who could all have the means and motive to commit the murders. Knowing this means that you read the book closely in the hunt for vital clues that may be missed.
With the simple use of great writing Beckett has created a fantastic novel that basically follows all the clichés that the genre has to offer. Far from being a bad thing, his ability to make characters interesting and keep the mystery alive throughout makes for page turning action. There is a reason why there are so many great conventions in crime fiction and Chemistry of Death is a reminder of why fans love the genre so. I advise all crime fans to read this, but also people who do not normally like the genre. These new readers may quickly find themselves drawn towards the dark genre!
Author: Simon Beckett
Price: amazon uk - £5.49
play.com - £5.49
Dr.David Hunter has been the local G.P in the Norfolk village of Manham for the past three years after fleeing the big city of London in the wake of the death of his wife and only daughter in a car accident. Leaving all of his previous life behind him, David decided to start anew with a clean slate somewhere remote where no one knew him; haunted only by the memories of his tragic loss.
But when two young boys find a body left decomposing in a local field apparently the victim of a paticulary gruesome murder, Dr.David Hunter finds his past catching up with him and dragging him back into a life he thought he'd left behind...for David was once one of the most sought after forensic anthropologists in the country and in this small Norfolk village where everybody knows everything about everyone else, it rapidly becomes apparent that the killer is very likely someone they all know....
Beckett has got Norfolk village life down to a tee in this highly engaging and very chilling crime thriller as pretty soon the villagers begin turning their suspicions towards those in the village who have been there the shortest amount of time and the novel is very realistic in it's "we don't loike strangers round here" approach!! I especially loved the subtle references to Norfolk landmarks such as the city of Norwich and the Broads at Horning being a Norfolk man myself!!
To be honest I had never heard of this book untill earlier this year when one of my reviews was rated by a fellow member and I checked out her own profile and saw this listed. Her glowing reccomendation persuaded me to pick up this book and I am so glad now that I did. From it's opening words describing the decomposition of the very recent dead to the final climatic scenes that left me literally gasping, this is one of the best books I have read all year and I would easily give this six stars out of five if I could!!
The novel is kind of a tribute to old-whodunnit-Agatha Christie-style thrillers and, aside from its often gory descriptions of murder scenes, is very much of a very similar manner to those Miss Marple mysteries but with a very modern twist. Certainly the list of suspects soon seems to encompass many of the people in the village and it is a congratulation to Beckett that the ending when it comes is as thrilling as it is unexpected!!
When forensic novels of this ilk seem to be cropping up left, right and indeed centre, it is very refreshing to read something that takes a whole new approach and still manages to successfully pull it off. This is by far one of the best debut novels I have ever read - definetly the best since Karin Slaughter's Blindsight- and, similarities with Kathy Reichs aside, this is without a doubt a very original approach to what can sometimes seem a very suffocated and over-used genre of late.
It is good too to read something this good from an english author based in Sheffield and hopefully this will not be the last we see of either this writer or his anthropologist alter-ego!!
With more twists and turns than a Norfolk B-road, this is a novel not to be missed by any fans of the genre and no collection of crime novels should be complete without this excellent piece of fiction as part of it's retinue.
In summary- this is a brilliant new debut from what promises to be a very successful author in the future...
David Hunter is the 'hero' of the book who since the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter, has retreated to a remote village in Norfolk where he is now a Doctor.
When a local woman is found brutally murdered in the woods, Hunters previous expertise as a forensic expert is called upon.
While he's reluctant at first he knows that his knowledge will be of great help, and as the body count increases he needs to work fast.
So compelling is the debut by Simon Beckett, that I without a doubt will be keeping an eye out for more of his thrillers.
As the title suggests the author goes into some detail about the bodies decay and how one can tell the time of death, those of you with a weak stomach would do well to avoid this book because of this detail.
For me I found the information fascinating although I did avoid eating while reading the book. It was interesting to find out how the presence of bugs for example can help determine a time of death, albeit roughly.
Without wanting to give too much away, there are some scenes of animal cruelty that were distressing to read. Luckily these parts of the story aren't drawn out too much, but they are upsetting none the less to read.
Simon Beckett can be very much compared to Patricia Cornwell and kathy Reichs who also write forensic thrillers. I would say though that this book by Beckett is one step up from those authors as he just manages to add a little more depth, mystery and realism to his debut.
For a while I was concerned about the number of characters being drawn into the story. Comparing it though to any Agatha Christie book where I've found myself forgetting who was who, Simon Beckett manages to give you another detail about each character, that I didn't have to flick back through to reacquaint myself with any of them.
At 419 pages long (paperback) I enjoyed the steady pace at which the story flowed, and I was pleased that the story wasn't unnecessarily padded out like I've found in the past with some books.
So well were the characters and settings described that I almost felt as if I was there, looking down upon the proceedings. Due to me finding myself so engaged in the story, I found that once I'd read the first page I just had to keep going until the very end. As I had become quite attached to the lead character I was desperate to find out whether he'd be able to over come his past demons and assist in stopping the murders.
The best bit for me about this story was the fact that the perpetrator/s of this crimes wasn't obvious. Many times during the story I thought I'd worked out who was responsible, only to proved wrong time and time again.
So to conclude if your a fan of thrillers where you'll be kept guessing until the very end who the bad guys are, then this is the book for you. If however you have a weak stomach, then this one should be avoided.
This edition was released in 2007
ISBN - 0553817493
Paperback 448 pages
Available used and new at amazon from 25 pence.
At the beginning of the year I saw a poster on the underground advertising this book. Straight away I was interested as it looked like my kind of book so I made a mental note to look it up on Amazon. When I did it did sound really good and for some reason Ive only just got my hands on a copy. Ive an interest in forensics and have long been fascinated by it so when I read that this involved forensics I knew Id enjoy it. Id never heard of the author Simon Beckett so I had no idea what to expect although Id imagine it would be somewhat like a Patricia Cornwall or Tess Gerritsen novel. Sometimes its best to have no pre conceptions and to dive straight in.
The opening of the book as fascinating and draws you in, well at least for anyone interested in forensics and in this case the decomposition of the human body. A human body starts to decompose four minutes after death. Once the encapsulation of life, it now undergoes its final metamorphoses. It begins to digest itself It may sound gruesome but I think its done is a tasteful way. Others may disagree though, as I tend to find things not even remotely scary or sickening when others do. When the subject of trails of maggots is mentioned we learn this is how Neil and Sam the Yates boys discover a body in the woods. It has so badly decomposed they werent even sure if it was male or female or even human. The smell was overpowering and the flies buzzing around made things worse as well. Running back home they are clearly shaken and when the police turn up they are so affected that they dont want to return to the woods to show them where the unidentifiable body is.
This is where our main character Dr David Hunter steps in. He is treating the young lads for shock before the police turn up. Mrs Yates tells him he thinks the body is that of Sally Palmer as she appeared in her dream. Hunter thinks this is strange and is relieved when the police do turn up. The police want the boys to show them where in the woods the body is but after Hunter and the boys mother agreeing that they are too shaken Hunter agrees to take then to the area of the woods that the boys discovered the body. He takes them so far and then waits for them to return. The youngest officer is white and has been sick so this confirms it for Hunter before they can even say something.
After the Mrs Yates telling him about the strange dream featuring Sally Palmer he decides to pop over to her farm to see her. He doesnt believe that something untoward has happened to Sally but he still has the impulse to go and see her. As they are both outsiders who have moved to Manham and they had socialised in the past although after Sally wanted to be more than friends he backed off because he wasnt ready for it. He still managed to remain friends with her. He doesnt know why he is going to see her, as she is a writer and could just be busy with that. When he does arrive at her farm he does become concerned. She has left her door unlocked (very unusual for a Londoner) and has a huge pile of mail, which seems strange. Still dismissing it he continues to look around and its when he goes outside he realises that something has happened. Her goats havent been fed and are almost dead and her Border Collie, Bess has been killed and has a severed head.
It turns out that Hunter is a forensic anthropologist and Chief Inspector MacKenzie, who is investigating the murder, wants his help. At the moment it isnt clear who they have found and although it looks like it is Palmer they need to be sure. Hunter really doesnt want to go back to his past life and takes some convincing to look at the remains of the body. Eventually he does and things take a turn for the worse. Another woman disappears and this time its someone who has lived in the village all her life so the village as a whole takes this more seriously. Could it be one of their own committing these atrocities or is it someone else? Will someone else fall victim?
Hunter is an interesting and mysterious character to begin with. Not a lot about him is revealed when he is introduced which makes you wonder why he has run away from London to Manham a sleepy village in Norfolk. Slowly bits of his past life are revealed and the reasons he accepted the post of GP, which I wont reveal. He had been in Manham for 3 years before the discovery of Sally Palmers body but he is still seen as being as an outsider because of the way the community is so tight knit. He is an extremely likeable character and when you find out the reasons for his aversion to helping the police with the mutilated bodies you can see why. When arriving he didnt even tell his boss Dr Henry Maitland the reasons behind it and he is under the impression that he has been a GP previously. When he does help with the investigation the villagers arent aware of this and see him with the police and jump to the wrong conclusions. Hunter doesnt really care and this adds to the speculation.
Maitland has employed Hunter because he was in a car accident and has since been in a wheelchair. He can no longer cope with the whole practice so taking Hunter on really helped him. However, when Hunter starts to help the police he starts to feel the strain again. He doesnt seem to complain about this and comes across as a really caring man. Maitland also has an air of mystery about him as he doesnt reveal much about his past and Hunter doesnt pry. When his housekeeper starts bad mouthing his wife, who was killed in the accident Hunter changes the subject, as he isnt comfortable.
I was interested in the forensics side of things and although Beckett does go into detail it isnt pages and pages of it. So those who have no idea wont be lost and will be able to follow the story with ease. Id personally have preferred more detail but then I guess what would have put most people off so this makes it more appealing to more people. The order that insects are found on a dead body are discussed and how this makes it possible for anthropologists to determine how long the body has been dead. Also the weather, soil and time of the year is used to pin point the time. I found this interesting as it means that the police can get a time slot of when the crime was committed and who they can rule out. Becketts fascination of this came from a visit to a place called The Body Farm in Tennessee. Here they actually use human corpses for their studies. As a journalist Beckett visited The Body Farm and it was from here the idea to write Chemistry Of Death came.
Hunter is the narrator most the time so we get to see things from his point of view. Occasionally the narrator will be another person but this doesnt happen and when it is it tends to be the murderer being the narrator. The book is very easy to read and it draws you in. I found myself wanting to read more as when I thought Id sussed it out something else happened where I knew I was wrong. The twists mean that most people wont be able to work out who did it from the beginning.
Id definitely recommend Chemistry Of Death. It would appeal to anyone who likes crime fiction but also those who like Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwall, Mo Hayder and Karin Slaughter. Although I wouldnt say that they were similar I know I enjoy these authors and there are tiny similarities in some of them. Id say Hayder is the best comparison, with her Birdman springing to mind but they are still very different. For anyone who is interested its available in hardback at the moment and itll be released in paperback in April 2007. The next Hunter book Written In Bone is going to be out next summer so Ill certainly be looking out for that one.