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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 13 March 2013
I liked this more when I was 80% through is than I did at the end, which means it's well written, had an interesting plot, for the most part, but was let down by the denouement.

This is the first of a series of books about Dr David Hunter, a forensic anthropologist. He trained as a doctor, but then had a career in forensic anthropology, then his wife and daughter are killed in a road traffic accident, then he goes off to lick his psychic wounds by becoming a GP in a Norfolk backwater.

This story begins three years after he moved to the country and when a serial killer begins a spree of torturing and killing young women.

By chance - who'd have thought this would happen? - Dr Hunter, who's just trying to keep himself to himself, gets involved. His specialty is what happens to the human body after death, how it decomposes, what insects and bacteria are involved, the timescale of the whole process, and how this information can be used to solve crimes.

All interesting enough, but it so happens I'd read about much of this before - in a book called Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (2003) which contained, among many other fascinating chapters, a chapter about "The Body Farm" (a research facility in the US where cadavers are buried in a field then dug up and examined at intervals to study the decomposition process). In his notes, Beckett says he wrote an article about this same facility.

Beckett writes well. There was an element of economy to his style, though he did lapse, at times, into triteness. I know that fans of this kind of fiction expect certain formulae to be followed but it would be nice to see someone going `off piste' a little more. As noted, I was generally enjoying reading this but then felt a little let down by the ending. I won't spoil it but it was of the "so that's what happened, no, wait, there's a twist, and now relax, oh, but wait, another twist". I can see why authors do this - presumably to make filming the story a more likely proposition - but I find it (not lazy but) predictable, if that makes sense, as in it's predictable that authors of this type of book try to be unpredictable.

The story is set in a Norfolk village and Beckett describes this well. It's not a lifestyle I know about so I cannot say how true to life it is - the suspicion of outsiders etc - but it reads true.

The medical aspects of the story (about which I should be able to comment with some authority) were a little hackneyed. Hunter's style of practice - in the 21st Century, in the modern NHS - is too Dr Finlay's Casebook to be believable. I suppose artistic licence is forgivable.

I may look out other books in the series at some point, though I'm not in a rush.

6/10
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The story went along at a good pace no dreary sidelines that alot of books have the writer kept you on track with the story
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on 10 April 2017
Interesting insight into the subject and good story, but not for anyone with a weak stomach and a good imagination
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on 28 March 2017
It only took me a day to finish this book.It gripped me from the very first page and I found it difficult to put down. Very informative and interesting from beginning to end.
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on 30 March 2017
Was interesting, believable, and suitable for both male and female readers. Just about enough of the technical side without over doing it.
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on 5 March 2017
I enjoyed this book the story pulls you in further with every page .looking forward to the next in series. Would like to see this televised on a Sunday evening.
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on 27 April 2017
suspenseful. Couldn't stop reading.
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on 31 January 2016
This is a well written book with, at its best, superb prose, & a clever & gripping story. But I thought some of the scenarios tested the suspension of credulity to its limits. In other words they were far fetched: the doctor's near total neglect of his job as GP resulting from his unorthodox dual role, people's ability to recover from dreadful trauma, physical & mental, & the denouement where we learn (somewhat incredulously in my case) who is responsible. I had an inkling of who it might be but though I wasn't wrong exactly, the actual who & how was unbelievable. To avoid spoilers I can't say more about that aspect of it.
Simon Beckett is well versed in forensic anthropology & has used it as the basis for the plot, giving some very interesting insights into the science. But his attempts to integrate it into a believable narrative are less successful. For example, to enable the protagonist Dr Hunter to be familiar with the village & involved with its residents he makes him the local GP, but at the same time has to make us believe that he is also an expert in forensic anthropology, & so would be called on to assist in those investigations. Becket employs various sleights of hand to achieve this, not least blurring his actual status: he was a doctor who became a forensic anthropologist, then reverted to being a doctor, a GP. Quite how he achieved this isn't clear & depends on our accepting the notion of a one man, autonomous GP practice - effectively an anachronism - able to appoint him solely on the basis of his letter of application, without reference to any authority. (This is passed over in the text with a casual "relearned my old medical training"). Similarly he is able to practise forensic anthropology on a casual basis apparently without any formal status, or come to that, salary.
But I'm not convinced anyway that forensic anthropology was vital to the solution of these murders. These victims were local & it was more a matter of confirmation of their identity, which I believe could have been done with ordinary forensics, DNA etc. The writer seems to half acknowledge this when he has the detective remark that some of these crime scene officers are "old school", reluctant to learn new methods! I suspect that even a pathologist could have estimated the likely time of death. The impression is that the writer wanted to pep up his story by using his particular interest.
Dr Hunter has lived & practised in this small, remote village for 3 years, not once venturing outside it. Yet he meets a (the?) village primary school teacher (are there still such schools?) for the first time only as an indirect result of the first murder. It seems he has never before seen or heard of her, something especially odd considering she suffers from type one diabetes & has to give herself regular insulin shots, on prescription! This is fudged by her mentioning that the older doctor prescribed it when she first came to the village - as if a prescription wouldn't have passed through Doctor Hunter's hands at some point. (Slight spoiler alert) It's apparent that this is a (clumsy) plot device to enable their romance & other plot involvements to occur as part of the narrative.
This might seem nitpicking but these are just a couple of examples of the fudging of the plot. If a text is to be credible it must bear some resemblance to the way the modern world works. (At one point he remarks tuhat it took him a long time to persuade his partner (the original one man GP) to allow him to have a computer!) At times I felt I was in an Agatha Christie novel, or era.
These shortcomings are not only irritating but seriously undermine the book's credibility. But I probably wouldn't read his other books in any case because the lingering forensic detail describing torture, sadism & bloodletting in general, is too graphic for my squeamish mind, although not a fault of the book. But I like my crime less specific, cosier.
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on 14 August 2007
Rachel Walkers review basically sums up my own opinion so I won't waste your time repeating it.

I'm a big crime fiction fan, but have been disapointed by how little really good new authors seem to be coming along. In the early 90's there was a huge wave of fresh British crime writing talent (people such as John Harvey, Ian Rankin, Val McDiarmid etc) heavily promoted by the publishing houses. These guys are still writing great books, but with familiarity comes predictability.

Simon Becket writes a totally different type of thriller. Very well researched, scientifically accurate and best of all very, very exciting. I was literally kept awake wanting to know how it ends and even before finishing the 'chemistry of death' I'd bought his second book..... and its been a long while since I did that!
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on 7 April 2006
First book by this author that I have read, and it won't be the last, superb, writing, and an excellent plot, the story grabs you from page one, and doesn't let go until the last page, I lierally could not put it down, the technical detail, and the way it was presented was so well done that although it was gruesome to say the least, it just adds to the tension that you so seldom find in crime scene descriptions in the average crime novel, the prime character (David) is totally convincing, and has emotions that most people will be able to identify with, as is the senior police officer. Great plot well written, and a sting in the tail, which is not suspected, or even hinted at until it hits you between the eyes.I have not read any of Simon Beckett's books before and this one was purchased, after seeing him interviewed on BBC Look North, evening news. Such a modest man too. I sincerely hope it is a great success and that other purchasers, enjoy it as much as I did,I have now ordered some of his earlier work and hope that they are as good.Tech' Details are as good as Patricia Cornwell writes, without, the American over the top, characters. ENJOY>
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