~~ Plot ~~
Forensics expert Dr David Hunter is in Tennessee working alongside his former mentor at the Anthropological Research Facility, better known as the body farm, to escape London and the violence that nearly killed him.
However a body has been found in a remote cabin out in the woods, and when his mentor and friend, David Lieberman who is director of the body farm is called out to investigate, David finds himself drawn into a search for a serial killer as more bodies are found. Can David get over what happened in London and help contribute towards this investigation as he tries to hunt down a killer who seemingly can't be stopped?
Simon Beckett is the author and has worked as a property repairer, taught English in Spain and even played percussion with several bands before becoming a novelist and freelance journalist. He now writes for national newspapers including The Times, Daily Telegraph, Independent on Sunday and Observer. He is married and lives in Sheffield.
This is the third book in the series featuring Dr David Hunter, and makes a change from the first two books in the series as the setting has now been taken away from the UK, which seemed a shame to me as I had enjoyed the first two books. I wouldn't say it's necessary to read the first two books before this one, as it takes on a whole new light and whilst it does mention events which have happened previously, it doesn't dwell on them too much and you do get the general gist that something bad has happened.
~~ My Opinion ~~
I do like the character of Dr Hunter however I seemed to prefer him in the previous books in a more British setting. With this book I found it harder to sympathise with the main character, and whilst Beckett is good at portraying character's emotions, I did feel that he couldn't decide where to take the character of Dr Hunter. For example, for most of the first half of the book David Hunter remember those previous violent events and keeps dwelling on them, and even smelling a familiar perfume in a restaurant sets him off into a panic attack, he is constantly looking over his shoulder. Then not so long later, he is facing just as serious a threat, however he suddenly feels like taking a walk around by himself and ignoring police advice of staying in his hotel room and not answering the door. To have a character go from being jumpy and suspicious to suddenly not being afraid anymore in a short space of time really confused me and it made it seem his character seem totally unbelievable to me in the later parts of the book.
The blurb on the back of the book has a big bold paragraph at the back taking a quote from the book mentioning the body farm. I therefore expected to have the body farm mentioned quite a bit, however it only appears at the start of the book for a couple of pages, and then we don't ever really venture back in after that, which was a disappointment seeing as the blurb really makes the body farm setting stand out as if it plays an important part in the story.
The story itself involving the serial killer was simply ok, and probably a rather average crime thriller which again was a disappointment as I loved the first two books and I feel Beckett has gone rather downhill with this one. I never felt riveted by the story and whilst quite gory, it didn't actually reach out and grab me. There is a big twist surrounding the killer, however when I found out who was the killer I just wanted to groan so loudly (however I was reading this book in the staff room.) The killer to me just seemed an unlikely character, and whilst many would say that makes for a good twist, I just couldn't believe the story line, and it seemed like Beckett did this simply for making a big twist at the end which the book probably could have done without!
The hunt for the serial killer towards the end does get a bit exciting, especially when it starts to get a bit personal, and it was the last few pages of the book I didn't want to put down. This was ruined by the twist Beckett wanted to include, and it did ruin the ending of the book for me by taking it in this new direction.
I did miss the British setting from the first two books, one was based in a Norfolk village and the second in Scotland and to me that was a part of the charm of his first two books. The American setting in this book was just too boring to me, it's all been done before and I didn't want to read a book that seems like it's trying to match Patricia Cornwall! I'm hoping Beckett returns to the UK with the fourth book otherwise I'm unlikely to buy it.
~~ Summary ~~
I didn't feel gripped by this story, and found it rather average. The characters seemed too unbelievable at times and I really feel Beckett has taken a back step with this third book in the series, which really does not match up the good standard of the first two books in the series.
Whispers of the Dead is available in paperback from Amazon.
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Bantam Books (Transworld Publishers a division of the Random House Group)
Dr David Hunter arrives in Knoxville, Tennessee and finds himself drawn into an investigation into a dead body found in remote woodlands. Arriving at the University Anthropological Research Facility, otherwise known as the Body Farm, Hunter intends to extend his knowledge, work alongside his former mentor and spend sometime in the USA recuperating after a nasty incident in the UK which nearly killed him; instead he is thrust into a murder investigation which takes many twists and a turns.
Whispers of the Dead is Simon Beckett's third published book of this series, Beckett who lives in Sheffield based the story on his own experience of The Body Farm. He has previous experience as a UK journalist and also teaching in Spain. His novels made him the UK's top selling author in Europe in 2009 - according to his website, although until I saw his books on sale in ASDA I admit to having never heard of him.
Whispers of the Dead picks up the story of Dr Hunter where the previous books, The Chemistry of Death and Written in Bone left off. Hunter's story is continued throughout the three books which may make it tricky for readers of the third to put together the pieces if they haven't read the first two. The background of the book is that Hunter has left the UK after first working as a GP in a Norfolk village and being embroiled in a murder mystery (Chemistry of Death) before moving to Scotland to work on a serial killer investigation. On leaving the investigation he is requested to attend a suspicious fire in the Outer Hebrides which leads to an investigation on a remote island where he becomes a target (Written in Bone). His relationship breaks down and Whispers of the Dead picks up where Written in Bone ended.
The character of Dr David Hunter is very likeable, he is an interesting character with a wealth of experience and Beckett is very good at expressing the characters emotion both in his written actions but also in his descriptions of the characters feelings in the face of danger. In this book Hunter is in an unfamiliar environment with anxiety issues, a broken relationship and worries that he is not suitable for a murder investigation, anxieties his mentor Tom is keen to address. Tom is running The Body Farm and is keen to have Dr Hunter on board with any investigation whilst he is in the country. This attitude fails to impressed local enforcement officers who are less than impressed to find 'a nobody,' from the UK working their patch.
Beckett's style of writing is easy to read, however I found that this particular novel took a little while to grab my interest. The first two or three chapters were quite slow going, whereas the more I read the less I could put the book down. Each chapter lasts approximately 27 pages. I found this quite difficult as I like to set a target of the end of the chapter before bed and 27 pages is a fairly long chapter to read when you are on the verge of sleep.
Nevertheless the storyline is gripping, fast paced and with enough information to keep you wondering in anticipation but not enough information to keep you wondering when you will get to the next part of the book.
I find that Simon Beckett is very good at introducing twists into his novels and Whispers of the Dead is no different. Just as you think you know what is going to happen, the novel changes direction leaving you wondering how you missed the clues. The answer is he didn't leave any.
This novel consists of 458 pages with an acknowledgements chapter excluded from the page count, in was published in 2009 and has had rave reviews from many authors who write on forensic anthropology and murder.
RRP £6.99 - however priced at £3.86 in Tesco
Also on Ciao under the same name.
After the slightly disappointing Written In Bone, that followed hot on the heels from the cracking debut that was Chemistry Of Death, comes this third entry in the relatively new David Hunter series. Fans might have suspected that Chemistry was a one-trick-pony after it's sequel and that they had already seen the best that Beckett had to offer, but I am happy to report that this is actually an error and that Whispers Of The Dead is a very good return to form from a writer who really impressed with his first ever novel.
Forensic scientist David Hunter has not had much luck in his life the last few years; first his wife and daughter were killed in a traffic accident, then his attempt to rebuild his life as a G.P came to naught when violence and brutality once more intercepted his life, his last case saw him being viciously attacked in his own home and now his relationship with school teacher, Jenni, has irretreivably broken down. Unsure whether or not he can still cut it, Hunter has travelled to America for an extended vacation doing research at the facility known as The Body Farm. It will give him time away from familiar surroundings to gather his thoughts and give him a chance to catch up with his old mentor; now Director of the institute.
For those not in the know (and where have you been?), The Body Farm is a research facility where scientists can examine the effects that nature has on a dead body in different enviroments. This can help scientists better consider time-of-death in crime scenes and allows them to observe the results that natural weather conditions, insects and animals over a period of time can have on a corpse. All bodies are there by exact permission of their former owners. It is an institute that has gathered a very grisly and well-deserved reputation and has even now been imitated in other locations to better help Law Enforcement Officers all across the world.
Unfortunately, Hunter is once more thrown into the mix when his mentor asks him to assist at a local crime scene. A body has been found set-up in a cabin and there are indications that indicate the body has been dead longer than the circumstantial evidence would suggest. It appears as though a murderer is abroad who has significant knowledge of Forensic Science and the ability to manipulate and confuse a crime scene and, before long, Hunter and his old mentor find themselves caught up in a deadly game of cat and mouse that could well be a race against time....for Hunter, it's a trial-by-fire as he is forced to confront his own personal demons. And then there is the fact that his presence is less than welcomed by the local authorities...
Simon Beckett is an author who doesn't scrimp on grisly details; anyone even slightly squeamish should very likely avoid this. But his knowledge of the human body and it's behaviour after death is both astounding and at the same time educational and the level of depth of the information that he imparts on the reader only serves to make his work even more believably realistic in it's approach. I don't often quote passages when reviewing a paticular author or novel, but from the opening page, Beckett sums up entirely the sort of material you know you can expect from the rest of the novel when he writes...
"When the body dies, the enzymes that life has held in check run amok. They devour cell walls, causing the liquid contents to escape. The fluid rises to the surface, gathering below the dermal layers and causing them to loosen. Skin and body, until now two integral parts of the whole, begin to seperate. Blisters form. Whole swathes begin to slip, sloughing off the body like an unwanted coat on a summer's day."
Nice heh? But Beckett's prose is almost like poetry with it's symmetry and imagery that burn deep into his readers' minds and that is why he will always rank highly in my top list of favourite writers. Jeffrey Deaver, another writer who favours cat and mouse themes in his work, could do worse than take note of how Beckett carries a plot. Dr.David Hunter is a very strong and likeable character who is not afraid to show his human frailty and expose his personal flaws and this is another lesson that other authors in this field would do well to imitate. Too often we are introduced to characters who see themselves as the world's greatest detective and it is nice to see someone for a change who is no better than you or I but simply has more technical information at his disposal which better alllows him to formulate his judgement.
Overall then, it is suffice for me to say that this is a very excellent and accomplished Forensic thriller that more than makes up for any of the flaws or slight imperfections of the novel before it. And, best of all, you don't have to have read any of the previous titles to enjoy it! David Hunter and Simon Beckett make a fine team and I look forward to further experiences with them in the future! Currently in hardback and available from Tesco online for around the £9 mark!.