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.

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