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Spoiled by the decomposing plot at the end
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.