The Scent of Death (David Hunter #6), by Simon Beckett

Nine stars

It is always a pleasure to get my hands on another Simon Beckett novel, as he forges deep into the world of forensic anthropology and delivers a stellar crime thriller. Dr. David Hunter is still trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife and daughter in a car accident, though has been able to find some comfort in the arms of a new relationship. However, that is tested as well when Rachel is sent off for a stint on the other side of Europe, leaving Hunter to bide his time in London with a serial killer potentially still on the loose and looking for him. When he is called out to offer his expertise at an abandoned hospital, Hunter helps assess a mummified corpse, which appears to have been left in a ceiling. As things are being analysed, Hunter is shoved aside by a new and vibrant new forensic taphonomist, eager to show off his cocky training and varied knowledge. While Hunter cannot be bothered, he comes to realise that his time in the limelight might be fading. When shelved from being an active player in the investigation, Hunter comes across a woman who was seen near the crime scene and whose home life is anything but stellar. A jagged acquaintanceship leads to some interesting revelations, while Hunter is also subjected to a strong wave of protest by locals who object to the old St. Jude hospital being turned into office space. Hunter discovers a few key players who help thicken the plot, which offsets the discovery of two bodies in a hidden wall. While police realise that they have a conniving killer in their midst, it would seem flashy tophonomy is not always what it’s lived up to, leaving David Hunter to come in with his well-established forensic anthropological techniques to make some interesting and groundbreaking discoveries. However, peering at bones may not be enough to catch a killer who has their targets set on neutralising anyone who may want it dig deeper. Beckett delivers another stellar novel in this well-established series. Those who enjoy forensic thrillers will surely want to acquaint themselves with Dr. David Hunter in short order, as this book is the perfect British complement to those I have read with a North American twist.

While I binge-read the first few novels in this series, Beckett took a break and left me hanging for years, only to return with some stellar follow-ups. His attention to detail and presentation of forensic anthropology keeps the reader engrossed throughout as they learn and are entertained in equal measure. David Hunter has seen much in his life, first as a GP and eventually honing his skills in forensic anthropology, as well as trying to come to terms with the loss of his family in a single night. Now, with a serial killer still lurking in the shadows, Hunter is trying to reinvent himself while helping out wherever he can. He seems sure of himself, yet also realises that he is no longer the shiny toy that attracts the attention of the locals at every turn. Reputation and detailed analysis work to help forge a strong character, though he has his own foibles throughout this piece. There are many characters who, both returning cast members and new faces, enrich the story with their presence and offer the reader some entertainment value. Beckett has created the perfect mix to keep the story moving and the plot evolving. The premise is wonderful and spooky at the same time; an abandoned hospital that is decaying with bodies left to mummify and rooms of torture where a killer had their way with victims. Without getting too gruesome, Beckett sets the scene well and keeps the reader wanting more. I, for one, love these books and am always eager to see what Dr. David Hunter will come across while trying to guess what discoveries await. The perfect novel for those who like forensics with a British spin.

Kudos, Mr. Beckett, for another superior novel. You have firmly found your place in the genre and I hope the ideas keep flowing.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Restless Dead (Dr. David Hunter #5), by Simon Beckett

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Simon Beckett, Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, and Bantam Press for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After a lengthy hiatus, Simon Beckett returns with his fifth Dr. David Hunter novel, reliving some of the great forensic anthropology of past books in the collection. Still coming to terms with a recent attack by a psychopath, Dr. Hunter receives a call to consult on a case outside of London. Happy to take the work where he can get it, Hunter soon discovers that this case goes beyond his usual parameters; the body is set to be recovered from an estuary, after having spent a significant amount of time in the water. During the body’s removal, Hunter realises that his expertise will be needed as there is little left of the face and extremities, though everyone is certain it belongs to Leo Villiers, whose father looms close at hand and wants a swift post-mortem to confirm his suspicions. During his trip to the formal post-mortem, Hunter tries a shortcut and is left stranded with the tide coming up. Without a vehicle, he must rely on the assistance of a local family, though the frigid reception he receives leaves him wondering how long the welcome might extend. Hunter soon learns that Leo Villiers is accused of murdering Emma Derby, an attractive young woman, though the body has yet to be discovered. Hunter begins poking around the case on his own and soon encounters Emma’s sister, Rachel, who adds to the narrative. Hunter makes a further forensic discovering, trying to curry favour with the local authorities, who are set to send him packing, and all but definitively determines the body is not that of Villiers. Left to wonder who might have turned up in the estuary, more bodies appear and all eyes turn to a local man whose sanity is a question of local lore. Can Hunter help get to the bottom of things before he, again, becomes the focus of a killer? A great return to the David Hunter series that will have series fans well-pleased and help to garner more fans for Beckett’s writing.

As Beckett admits in the acknowledgements, this book was a long-time coming and its delay has left series fans eager to dive in. I will admit, it took a few chapters for the momentum to return, but once I was back in sync, Beckett took over and I remember why I enjoy this series so much. Dr. David Hunter remains somewhat of an isolated soul, with his backstory developed throughout the series and newer fears sandwiched on either end of this thriller. Beckett is able to support his protagonist with a wonderful collection of characters, pulling on both police and locals, that keep the story moving forward. Flirting with something more than platonic, Hunter seeks to use his awkwardness to his advantage, though the reader might be left tapping a toe as they wait for Hunter to pick up on the obvious signs. While not as strong on the forensics as I have seen in past novels (or other series within the genre), Beckett was able to keep the narrative moving effectively, turning Hunter into a sleuth more than forensic anthropologist alone. There are a few subplots that can be extrapolated from outside the boundaries of this novel, all of which work nicely and culminate in the final few chapters, leaving the reader highly entertained and perhaps surprised. A strong story and a cliffhanger that keeps readers wondering what is to come, Beckett has come back from his Hunter hiatus with a well-written piece that should sate fans for a short time (and only that)!

Kudos, Mr. Beckett for a great return. I hope you have more ideas brewing and that we can look forward to them sooner than later.