THE CHEMISTRY OF DEATH
Simon Beckett

 


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Bantam Press, Sep 2006
Reviewed by Kerrie Smith

Classification: Crime/Thriller

Three years ago forensic anthropology expert David Hunter left London to become a GP in the Norfolk Broads. The close-knit Norfolk village of Manham where he lives has no idea of his background and that's the way he wants it. It is one of those villages where it takes a lifetime to be accepted, and perhaps he'll always be an outsider.

One early July Sunday afternoon two young boys come across a maggot trail on the edge of the marsh, and moments later they find a decomposing body. When the hysterical boys arrive home, their mother calls Dr. Hunter who calls the local police. Hard as he tries to distance himself from the investigation, David is drawn in when the investigating police inspector discovers who he is. His involvement in the case is assured when a young woman fails to return home from her morning run.

The threads of the novel are an interesting interweaving of David Hunter's forensic knowledge with the way a community can turn on its members. Some see it as a chance to drop suspicion on enemies, the village priest tries to take the opportunity to make a stronger community, and outsiders like David Hunter become prime suspects. And all the time they are looking in the wrong places.

In the Acknowledgements, debut author and journalist Simon Beckett says that the inspiration for THE CHEMISTRY OF DEATH came from an article he wrote about the National Forensic Academy in Tennessee, which provides intensive and realistic forensic training for crime scene investigators. In fact, Beckett has David Hunter attend a course at the academy. In the copy of the book that I read, the article is included in the final pages. That his visit to the academy made a lasting impression on Beckett is obvious throughout THE CHEMISTRY OF DEATH. There's a lot of detail about what happens when a body decomposes, and there are times when you don't want your imagination to work too vividly.

Simon Beckett is strong and assured writer. THE CHEMISTRY OF DEATH was short-listed for the 2006 CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Crime Novel. It is available in a variety of print and audio formats. Beckett's second novel, WRITTEN IN BONE, was published in hard cover in August 2007.
His website at http://www.simonbeckett.com/ is full of goodies: interviews, promotional videos, short stories, articles, and reviews.

Review first published in Murder and Mayhem, November 2007

 

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