THE CHEMISTRY OF DEATH by Simon Beckett


Thank goodness for British authors. With all due respect to authors of different nationalities, as they all have excellent qualities, there’s just something special about British crime fiction. In 2011 I introduced myself to two fantastic British authors, the first of which was Peter Robinson. This week I finished the first novel in Simon Beckett’s David Hunter series, The Chemistry of Death and it was one of my favourite crime novels. Ignore all future/previous claims of this. Beckett is the real thing.

In The Chemistry of Death we meet Dr David Hunter, a GP who was once a highly esteemed scientist in the relatively archaic field of forensic anthropology. He has retreated to the tiny village of Manham to escape a horrific incident that destroyed his family; after taking a temporary position to assist the local GP, Hunter has stayed in the remote community. While the town normally provides Hunter with a sense of relaxation and serves as a desirable retreat from hectic city life, small places like Manham spread fear and suspicion as soon as things turn sour.

Unfortunately for Dr Hunter, that is exactly what happens when the body of a local woman is discovered in the woods. While he is not a suspect, his involvement in the case brings a considerable amount of suspicion with it, and the fact that he is a relatively new member of the community results in rumours spreading that he has been arrested. His previous expertise is called upon heavily, as the local police have no evidence and no solid leads. The discovery of two more bodies does nothing to quell the rising fear in Manham, and the race to discover who is behind the horrendous crimes could cost Dr Hunter dearly. The climax of the novel will shock you – it truly was an unexpected finale.

I really don’t want to give too much away. Not only is the storyline thrilling and exciting, but Beckett’s writing style is phenomenal. Some chapters end with a forewarning of events to come, almost as though someone is recounting the events as if they have already happened, while slightly alluding to the danger to come. This, coupled with the first person narration, really works in drawing the reader in and allowing them to become completely involved and engrossed in the story. It is grizzly without being overly gruesome, there is romance without it being trashy, and there is a sadistic killer on the loose that strikes fear into the hearts of all the villagers. The Chemistry of Death also illustrates what fear can do to a small community; the character of Reverend Scarsdale is a power-hungry man worthy of mention in a Stephen King novel.

A truly fantastic author and an impressive debut. In Dr Hunter, modern crime readers have a new hero, and in Beckett, modern crime readers have a much-needed breath of fresh air.

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