WHISPERS OF THE DEAD
Bantam £6.99 pbk
Adrian Magson is the author of the Riley Gavin/Frank Palmer series published by Crème de la Crime. Visit www.adrianmagson.com for more.
Simon Beckett’s third David Hunter thriller opens with the British forensics expert visiting The Body Farm, more formally known as the Anthropological Research Facility, in Tennessee. Here, bodies are left to decay in natural surroundings while being monitored and recorded, the results vital for use by police and law enforcement agencies investigating deaths, suspicious or otherwise.
Hunter is not a happy man; he is recovering from a near-fatal knife wound, and earlier, the loss of his wife and daughter. But after a long lay-off from work, he needs to get back into the running, and decides that a trip to the Body Farm, run by his friend Tom Lieberman, is a practical way of doing so.
If he is looking for a gentle ride, however, he soon discovers otherwise. When Tom is called to a murder scene and insists on Hunter accompanying him, they run up against Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Dan Gardner, who immediately shows his displeasure at Hunter’s presence, as does local pathologist Donald Hicks and a snooty, publicity-hungry criminal profiler named Irving. Hunter would normally have been able to stand up to the sniping directed his way, but his life is anything but normal, and he is experiencing an unaccustomed loss of confidence. But Tom digs in his heels and he is allowed to stay.
The body they have come to see has some puzzling aspects: it is more decayed than they expected from the circumstances, and although there is a great deal of blood around, there are also signs relating to drowning. The apparent identity of the dead man also proves puzzle, and when they exhume another body during the course of the investigation and find yet another surprise, it becomes clear that they are dealing with something quite out of the ordinary.
There is a lot here for the reader interested in forensic detail, without the superficial gloss and more easily digestible than anything television’s CSI presentations can impart. Simon Beckett’s writing is very smooth and he manages to explain the detail very clearly without going to unnecessary or confusing technical lengths. He writes so that the reader can understand, which to me, was a great plus point. (I just wish he’d been writing textbooks when I was trying to get to grips with physics at school).
He also deals with Hunter’s problems in a sympathetic and reasonable way, while maintaining a high level of tension as the body count mounts and Hunter is drawn deeper and deeper into what is a very troubling and complex case.
The constant antipathy among the characters keeps us on Hunter’s side throughout, as does the relationship between him and Tom, who is clearly not in great health. There is also a tiny hint of possible love interest for Hunter with a female TBI agent just to add to the emotional involvement.
But it’s the bodies which are the main leads in this book, and the stories they tell are what grips the attention. Everything is in the detail painstakingly winkled out by the experts as they battle with a confusion of identities, forensic evidence and a trail of clues which leads only to further confusion as they work their way towards uncovering the killer.
I’m not normally a lover of forensics investigations – not at this level, anyway. But Simon Beckett’s skilled writing won me over completely and kept me fascinated – and turning the pages – right to the stunning and truly scary ending (including the creepiest revelation I’ve read about how the killer tricked the experts with the use of fingerprints which were not his own).
And you can’t ask more of a thriller than that.Recommended.
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