Val McDermid






Harper Collins, February 2006
Reviewed by Sally Rodom

Torrential rains fall across England, and in the Lake District a tattooed body is exposed in an old peat bog. This is no recent death. The pathologist estimates it has been there for about two hundred years.

Jane Gresham, an expert on the poet William Wordsworth, believes in a local legend that Fletcher Christian, infamous for leading the Mutiny on the Bounty, faked his death on Pitcairn Island and ended his days hiding out in the Lake District. She is convinced that not only is the unearthed body Christian’s, but there is a missing manuscript of poetry written by Fletcher’s best friend, William Wordsworth, about the whole adventure. If she could find this manuscript it would be worth millions.

However, in true thriller style, as Jane gets a lucky break and begins to track the manuscript down by interviewing the descendants of Wordsworth’s maid, it becomes apparent that someone else is looking for the manuscript too. Each elderly person she interviews dies the following day. At first it seems to be a horrible coincidence – but then it becomes clear that they are being murdered and Jane’s own life is in jeopardy. If that isn’t enough, Jane has another problem on her hands. A young neighbour, Tenille, who she has befriended, is a murder suspect, and follows Jane to the country to hide out.

Val McDermid has woven these plots together into a whodunit, which just missed the mark for me. The potential was there, but I found the characters to be very one-dimensional, the ‘baddie’ was predictable. The plot took a long time to take off, but once it did it was edge of the seat stuff. I am a fan of McDermid, but when I compare it to her other stand alone novels I feel that THE GRAVE TATTOO just wasn’t up to her usual standard. To be fair, her other stand alones have stories that are drenched in blood, and her book A PLACE OF EXECUTION is one of her best. This one just didn’t have the oomph of her other thrillers; however, there is a lot less blood.

May 2006 Review also posted on Murder and Mayhem

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