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by Val McDermid
HarperCollins, February 2006
480 pages
ISBN: 0007142854

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Val McDermid has done it again. She has written a standalone that is almost as good as A PLACE OF EXECUTION, which this reviewer thinks is her best work.

Jane Gresham, a native of Fellhead in the Lake District and a Wordsworth scholar is living in a rundown council flat on an estate in London's East End and working several jobs in order to support herself during her graduate studies. A newspaper article stating that a tattooed body has been found in a bog near Fellhead catches her eye.

There has been a legend about the Bounty mutineer, Fletcher Christian. He did not die on Pitcairn Island but returned to the Lakes and met with his school chum, William Wordsworth, who subsequently wrote a long narrative poem about the mutiny from Christian's point of view. The bog body has strange tattoos on it, which intrigues Gresham even more.

McDermid is a master at juggling several threads, keeping them completely separate until the time comes to finish her web. We are also introduced to a very bright 13-year-old mixed race girl, Tenille, who has been befriended by Jane. Tenille lives with her aunt and 'uncle' of the moment. It is rumored that her father is the criminal mastermind of the estate.

Jane gets leave from her teaching duties to go home and see if the corpse leads her to the lost manuscript, but just as she is leaving, Tenille tells her that she is the victim of attempted rape. Jane goes to Tenille's father who says he will take care of the matter.

Meanwhile, Jake Hartnell, Jane's former lover, is now living with and working for Caroline Kerr, dealer in old manuscripts. He also reads of the bog body and figures that he can make up with Jane, thereby getting first crack at the missing epic.

All threads come together amidst the wild and gorgeous scenery of the Lakes. The plot and characterizations are so integrated with the locations, that where Gresham may be the outsider in London, Tenille is definitely the stranger in the Lakes. To those of you who may have been put off by the violence and gore of the WIRE IN THE BLOOD series, fear no more. This is a story that brings some familiar old tales to life. Was Fletcher Christian the Ancient Mariner?

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, January 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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