Location: Village of Manham in the Norfolk Broads, U.K. The Broads are Northeast of London, in the part of the coast that bulges out.
This is one of my European selections for Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge. I read it in the Kindle edition.
Dr. David Hunter left London for the village of Manham after a personal tragedy left him with the need for quiet isolation. His 6 months temporary post to assist Dr. Henry Maitland, wheelchair bound from a car crash that killed his wife, turned into a partnership in the practice.
The dull routine of the village is shattered when the body of a resident, Sally Palmer is found. Since David was called to administer to the two boys who found the body and directed the constables to the location where the remains were found, he comes to the attention of Chief Inspector Mackenzie. Mackenzie learns that David has a past at odds with his role of village doctor. At one time, David was one of the leading forensic anthropologists in the U.K. Reluctantly, David is pulled back into a life he wanted to leave behind and his skills are in urgent demand as more bodies appear.
The Chemistry of Death describes what happens to the body when when death occurs. Beckett's descriptions are very graphic and very well written. If you are at all squeamish and put off by talk of maggots then you should give this a miss. If you enjoy reading about the techniques of forensics and forensic anthropology specifically then you won't want to miss this book. The first page reminded me of an opening scene from the TNT TV show, Bones.
Beckett works in several several interesting features into his story. First, is the forensics/police procedural aspects. This is very well done and his opening description pulled me into the story. The details he incorporates are fascinating.
He also gives us a look at sociology of a village. When it becomes obvious that the killer must be local, the calm cohesion of village life disintegrates into rumour, suspicion, and violence.
From a police procedural, the book finishes as a thriller. This part was a bit jarring but it had my up way past my bedtime clicking the next page button on the Kindle. I didn't see the ending coming but it wasn't a "where did that come from" cheat and that's a good thing. I could think back and see the trail that Beckett marked for the reader.
Beckett has two more David Hunter books, Written in Bone and Whispers of the Dead, and I will be reading them.
Some of you will know from previous posts that I'm interested in social media - blogs, twitter, Facebook, etc. Over the past year or so my reading and interests have been shaped by social media, particularly blogs. I frequently note how I found out about a book. With The Chemistry of Death, I owe my discovery to South African thriller writer Jassy Mackenzie. I subscribe to the South African blog Crime Beat where she wrote how she discovered Simon Beckett. I went to Amazon to look up Beckett and along the way found that Jassy's book, Random Violence, will be available April 1. I have it on pre-order.