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by Simon Beckett
Bantam Press, August 2007
304 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0593055241

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE CHEMISTRY OF DEATH was one of my favourite books of 2006, so when the release date of WRITTEN IN BONE was announced, I was understandably very enthusiastic and, when my copy arrived, broke my rule of reading books in order of the date of their release. I read it last night and am now in two minds about it.

Forensic anthropologist David Hunter is on his way home to girlfriend Jenny when an Inverness Detective Superintendent rings him and requests that Hunter go instead to the small island of Runa, in the Outer Hebrides. A train wreck with much attendant loss of life, has occurred on the mainland, occupying the attention of all local forensic people. On Runa, the burned remains of a body have been recovered and it is imperative that Hunter make his services available to the island. Needless to say, Jenny is not impressed, but what can a conscientious forensic anthropologist do?

Once on Runa, Hunter meets a retired Detective Inspector, Brody, who becomes far more of an asset to the investigation than the prickly, alcoholic, territorial Sergeant Fraser. The wealthy Strachans, benefactors of Runa, are rather more anxious than Fraser to be of assistance while journalist Maggie Cassidy is intent on getting a big story to advance her career. A sudden, savage storm serves to isolate the island and cut off communications so that the dynamics of the small society become skewed as the corpses multiply.

Simon Beckett has a fine ability to evoke atmosphere. The darkness of the storm pervades the tale as the drama is unveiled and, as before, he doesn't stint on the gruesome in his descriptions.

As I mentioned previously, this episode in the adventures of David Hunter is very well written up to a point. It's all well and good to introduce twists into the plot but it is always wise to bear in mind the adage that "less is more." The ending to the tale was, well, somewhat silly and the added complications totally unnecessary. Yes, it is good to provide an unlikely villain but not to the extent that the suspension of disbelief actually snaps from the weight of the plot twist.

Apart from that, the characterisations were well done, Hunter being as credible as he was in the previous book, and the Scottish characters being suitably charming or intimidating.

I have to admit that the identity of the murderer had me totally baffled. I shall do my best to forget the concluding chapters of the book so I can look forward with eagerness to any further installment of the series.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, July 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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