Born: Sheffield, England April 20, 1960
Education: B.A., M.A. English
Thriller Sub-genre: Forensic Thriller
Publisher: Bantam Press
Future of the series: The next book in the series was released in German entitled Totenfang on October 14, 2016 and the UK version was released on April 6, 2017. Unfortunately, the book has not been released in the US, but it is possible to get a hardbound or paperback copy from a UK distributor through Amazon. Sorry no e-book for us Yanks.
The Simon Review:
When I saw the title of the first novel of Simon Beckett’s David Hunter Series, The Chemistry of Death, the chemist in me couldn’t help but rub my hands together and shout out ‘ALL RIGHT!’, however, after reading it, I was greatly disappointed as there really wasn’t much in the way of chemistry at all. In fact, there wasn’t much in the form of techno lingo that usually gets my glands salivating. There is, however, forensics which is why I am reviewing this series.
Our hero of the series Dr. David Hunter begins the series as one of those forensic pathologists that tries to escape his profession as a result of a personal tragedy by taking up a position as a family doctor. Though he tries to hide from his previous occupation, the grim reaper just keeps following him and he reluctantly gets pulled back into his old profession. I don’t know what it is about the profession of forensic pathology, it’s just like the Hotel California, once you enter it, you can never leave.
The series takes place across the Atlantic in Good Ole England, which is where our author originates. Hunter so much wants to escape his previous life that he leaves the city to work as a doctor in a very rural community. But alas, serial killers just seem to follow him and he is caught up in an investigation that he wishes that he could avoid. Once he realizes that there is no escape for him in the field of forensic pathology, he gives in and moves back to the city but is quickly whisked away to another and even more remote rural area to once again deal with another serial killer. In the third book of the series Whispers of the Dead, he gets to leave England altogether to travel to America and work on a case at the ‘Body Farm’, a forensic research facility that studies the science behind decomposition under different environmental conditions and, of course, he gets to deal with another serial killer.
I do have some issues with the science (see What about the science?), but the stories in this series are very enjoyable. This is a perfect series for those that like forensics but don’t like the more technical aspects of it. The novels within the series could be read as standalones.
Most Favorite Novel in the Series-Whispers of the Dead, because this novel took place at the “Body Farm” and I enjoy reading “Body Farm” novels.
Least Favorite Novel in the Series-Calling of the Grave, because of the lack of forensics.
What about the science? Simon Beckett is not a scientist but a writer that got his inspiration for this series by actually visiting the ‘Body Farm’, which is the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. (For more info on the Body Farm and a forensic thriller series totally based on it, check out Jefferson Bass’ The Body Farm Series.) Even though Beckett visited this research facility, he didn’t take very good notes. His discussion of adipocere in The Chemistry of Death is all wrong (see Technical Word in Review) and I would probably give him a ‘D-‘ if he answered this on a test (I would give him an ‘F’ except that he spelled adipocere correctly). Because of this, I would take any of the science in this series with a grain of salt.
The David Hunter Technical Word in Review: Adipocere, also known as ‘Grave’s Wax’ is produced by a chemical reaction known as saponification in which body fat is converted into a waxy substance. Once it’s formed it can exist for extensive periods of time and give a corpse the appearance that the time of death was sooner than later. The formation of adipocere is very dependent on environmental conditions which normally require a very moist environment, devoid of oxygen and the reaction is carried out through anaerobic bacteria.
The process of saponification is the same process that turns fat into soap. In fact, the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has one exhibit nicknamed ‘The Soap Lady’ which is a corpse of a morbidly obese women that died sometime in the 1830s. The reaction requires a fatty acid in the presence of sodium hydroxide or lye which results in the formation of a sodium carboxylate or soap.
(Image via UC Davis Chemwiki)
Simon Beckett’s example of adipocere is not accurate mainly in the fact is that the formation of adipocere is normally a slow process and usually does not occur until at least a month after death, though there have been cases of adipocere formation after a few days (Bull, I.D. et al), it is uncommon. Additionally, the corpse of interest was found in the open and in a very aerobic dry environment which is not supportive for the formation of adipocere. Also crumbly and brittle adipocere is actually very old; it is the soft wet adipocere that is fresher. And finally, there is the presence of insect activity and if there are insects it is a definite indicator that there will be no adipocere present.
“OK, so from basic insect activity you’re looking at a preliminary time-since-death interval of between one and two weeks. I take it you know what this stuff here is?” I asked, indicating the traces of yellow-white substance clinging to some of the grass.
“It’s a by-product of decomposition,” the crime scene officer said, stiffly.
“That’s right,” I said. “It’s called adipocere. Grave Wax, as it used to be known. It’s basically soap formed from the body’s fatty acids as the muscle proteins break down. That makes the soil highly alkaline, which is what kills the grass. And if you look at this white stuff you’ll see it’s brittle and crumbly. That suggests a fairly rapid decomposition, because if it’s slow the adipocere tends to be softer. Which fits in with what you’d expect for a body lying outdoors in hot weather, and with a lot of open wounds for bacteria to invade. Even so, there isn’t much of it yet, which again fits with a time-since-death of less than two weeks.–Chemistry of Death
Books in the Series by Order:
Vote for your favorite Forensic Thriller on the Forensic Fiction List on Goodreads Listopia.
Most Favorite in the series: Restless Dead with a score of 4.14
Least Favorite in the series: Calling of the Grave with a score of 3.91
Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Barnes and Nobles, Library Thing and Amazon (US & UK)
Listed #18 out of 120 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List
Listed #101 out of 168 on Goodreads Science Thriller Book List
A human body starts to decompose four minutes after death.
David Hunter: A medical doctor with a specialization in physical anthropology
Jenny Hammond: School teacher and potential love interest for Hunter
Henry Maitland: Hired Hunter and to help him with his clinic
The Village of Manham in the County of Norfolk, England
When the bizarrely mutilated body of a young woman is found near the tiny isolated Norfolk village of Manham, it isn’t just the fact that she was a friend that disturbs Dr. David Hunter. A one-time high-profile forensic anthropologist, he was once all too familiar with the different faces of death, until a devastating personal tragedy made him abandon his former life and career.
Now hidden away as a country doctor, Hunter had hoped his past would remain buried. So when he’s asked to use his arcane skills to help track down the killer, he’s reluctant to become involved. He knows to do so will only stir up the painful memories he’s been trying so hard to forget. But then another woman disappears, plunging Manham into a maelstrom of fear and paranoia where no one, not even Hunter, is exempt from suspicion. As the once peaceful community begins to tear itself apart, he knows he will need all his knowledge and expertise if the twisted killer is to be stopped…
“It was a different David Hunter who had immersed himself in the arcane chemistry of death, seen the end product of countless incidents of violence, accident, and nature.”
Looking for reviews for Chemistry of Death? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.22 out of 5 stars based on 56 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: 4.54 out of 5 stars based on 124 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 4.08 out of 5 stars based on 9,409 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.30 out of 5 stars based on 27 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 4.00 out of 4 stars based on 458 ratings
Total Score 4.08 (updated 5/17/16)
Listed #11 out of 120 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List
Listed #138 out of 168 on Goodreads Science Thriller Book List
Given the right temperature, everything burns.
David Hunter and Jenny Hammond
Superintendent Graham Wallace: Recruited Hunter to investigate a murder on the Island of Runa
Andrew Brody: Retired Homicide detective and resides on the Island of Runa
Michael Strachan: Influential individual on the Island of Runa
Grace Strachan: Beautiful wife of Michael Strachan
The Island of Runa located in the Outer Hebrides of England
On his way back from an ongoing investigation into a serial killer in Scotland, forensic anthropologist David Hunter is asked to examine a fire-death on the remote Hebridean island of Runa. Told only that there is something ‘strange’ about it, Hunter is intrigued enough to accept – despite the worsening winter weather conditions, and the strain it will put on his already troubled relationship with his girlfriend, Jenny.
After a rough sea journey, he and the two police officers who accompany him are met by Brody, a retired DI who now lives on the island, and who discovered the body. Warned that it will be unlike anything he’s seen before, Hunter is still unprepared for what confronts him at the abandoned old crofter’s cottage – human remains that have been burnt to the bone, except for both feet and a single hand that have somehow survived unscathed. Even more inexplicably, nothing else in the cottage has been damaged by the fire.
It appears to be a textbook case of the phenomenon known as spontaneous human combustion. But Hunter is certain there is a more rational explanation for what has happened. And although the police seem ready to dismiss this as a bizarre accidental death, he finds himself drawn more towards Brody’s gut feeling: whatever caused this, it was no accident.
But even as Hunter comes face to face with the knowledge that there is a murderer on the island, the full force of an Atlantic storm descends. Cut off from the mainland, he begins to realise that the burned corpse is only one of Runa’s secrets. And as the storm rages, the killing begins in earnest…
“Our lives, and sometimes deaths, are stories written in bone. It provides a tell-tale record of injuries, neglect or abuse.”
Looking for reviews for Written in Bone? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.41 out of 5 stars based on 59 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: 4.46 out of 5 stars based on 102 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 4.11 out of 5 stars based on 7,578 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.23 out of 5 stars based on 22 ratings
Library Thing: 3.91 out of 4 stars based on 307 ratings
Total Score 4.10 (updated 4/13/17)
Listed #19 out of 120 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List
A Sample Audio Clip
David Hunter, Jenny Hammond, and Grace Strachan
Tom Lieberman: Hunter’s old mentor at the Forensic Anthropology at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Assistant Special Agent Dan Gardner: Homocide detective in charge of the recent case
Recuperating from a near-fatal attack, forensic anthropologist David Hunter has returned to the renowned research facility where he first trained – the Body Farm in Tennessee. Still bearing physical and emotional scars, he hopes the trip will hone his old skills and restore his shattered confidence.
So when his former mentor invites him to assist on a murder investigation, he agrees. After all, he’s simply there as an observer – what could possibly go wrong?
But even Hunter is unprepared by the gruesome nature of the killing. The victim has been bound and tortured, and the body has decomposed beyond recognition – far more so than it should have. Fingerprints at the scene appear to identify the killer; however Hunter is convinced that nothing is quite as it seems.
Then a second body is found, and suddenly the team is plunged into a nightmare of deception and misdirection, in pursuit of a macabre serial killer whose forensic knowledge seems disturbingly familiar. As the death toll rises and Hunter finds he has enemies even within the investigation, he begins to fear that they might be on the trail of a maniac who simply cannot be stopped…
Looking for reviews for Whispers of the Dead? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.69 out of 5 stars based on 36 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: 4.58 out of 5 stars based on 91 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 4.05 out of 5 stars based on 5,045 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.33 out of 5 stars based on 12 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 3.94 out of 4 stars based on 214 ratings
Total Score 4.06 (updated 5/17/16)
Listed #129 out of 130 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List
Jerome Monk: Escaped convict and Hunter was involved in getting him convicted
Sophie Keller: Another member of the forensic team to help convict Monk
Terry Connors: Original investigating detective on the Monk case but has sense been suspended from the department
Leonard Wainwright: High profile expert in forensics
The Dartmoor moorland located in the southern portion of Devon County, England
Eight years ago Hunter was part of a forensic team tasked with finding the Dartmoor graves of missing teenage girls, the victims of a brutal rapist and murderer called Jerome Monk. Back then Hunter’s life was very different – happily married and with a young daughter, he was confident in his abilities and optimistic about the future.
Now that’s all changed. Haunted by personal tragedy, he’s forced to return to Dartmoor when Monk escapes from prison and appears to be targeting people involved in the search. As Hunter confronts a past he’d hoped was buried, he begins to realise that the events of eight years ago are far from over, and that his only chance of ending the violence unfolding now is by questioning everything – and everyone – he thought he knew.
Looking for reviews for Calling of the Grave? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.37 out of 5 stars based on 63 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: 4.44 out of 5 stars based on 78 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 3.90 out of 5 stars based on 3,649 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 12 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 3.76 out of 4 stars based on 113 ratings
Total Score 3.91 (updated 5/17/16)
Eigentlich hatte David Hunter es geschafft, die Folgen des Überfalls vor einigen Jahren zu verarbeiten. Als er aber vor seiner Haustür eine Reisetasche mit überaus gruseligem Inhalt findet, kommt die Vergangenheit wieder hoch. Wer hat die Tasche dort platziert, was steckt dahinter?
Dies ist eine Kurzgeschichte mit David Hunter, die nur digital erscheint.
Compose of over sixty percent water, a human body isn’t naturally buoyant.
Leo Villiers: Son of wealthy businessman Stephen Villiers
Emma Derby: Beautiful wife of architect Andrew Trask and potential murder victim
Rachel Derby: Emma’s sister
Bob Lundy: Homicide detective investigating the Leo Villiers case
London and the Backwater Estuary in Essex
Once one of the country’s most respected forensics experts, Dr David Hunter is facing an uncertain professional – and personal – future. So when he gets a call from Essex police, he’s eager for the chance to assist them.
A badly decomposed body has been found in a desolate area of tidal mudflats and saltmarsh called the Backwaters. Under pressure to close the case, the police want Hunter to help with the recovery and identification.
It’s thought the remains are those of Leo Villiers, the son of a prominent businessman who vanished weeks ago. To complicate matters, it was rumoured that Villiers was having an affair with a local woman. And she too is missing.
But Hunter has his doubts about the identity. He knows the condition of the unrecognizable body could hide a multitude of sins. Then more remains are discovered – and these remote wetlands begin to give up their secrets . . .
With its eerie, claustrophobic sense of place, viscerally authentic detail and explosive heart-in-mouth moments, The Restless Dead offers a masterclass in crime fiction and marks the stunning return of one of the genre’s best.
Sein fünfter Fall führt Dr. David Hunter in die Backwaters, ein unwirtliches Mündungsgebiet in Essex, wo die Grenzen zwischen Land und Wasser verschwimmen. Aber die wahren Gefahren lauern nicht in der Tiefe, sondern dort, wo er sie am wenigsten erwartet.
Seit über einem Monat ist der 31-jährige Leo Villiers spurlos verschwunden. Als an einer Flussmündung zwischen Seetang und Schlamm eine stark verweste Männerleiche gefunden wird, geht die Polizei davon aus, Leo gefunden zu haben. Der Spross der einflussreichsten Familie der Gegend soll eine Affäre mit einer verheirateten Frau gehabt haben, die ebenfalls als vermisst gilt: Leo steht im Verdacht, Emma Darby und schließlich sich selbst umgebracht zu haben. Doch David Hunter kommen Zweifel an der Identität des Toten. Denn tags darauf treibt ein einzelner Fuß im Wasser, und der gehört definitiv zu einer anderen Leiche.
Für die Zeit seines Aufenthalts kommt David Hunter in einem abgeschiedenen Bootshaus unter. Es gehört Andrew Trask, dessen Familie ihm mit unverholener Feindseligkeit begegnet. Aber sie scheinen nicht die einzigen im Ort zu sein, die etwas zu verbergen haben. Und noch ehe der forensische Anthropologe das Rätsel um den unbekannten Toten lösen kann, fordert die erbarmungslose Wasserlandschaft erneut ihren Tribut…
Mit der lang erwarteten Fortsetzung seiner David-Hunter-Serie legt Bestseller-Autor Simon Beckett erneut einen Thriller der Meisterklasse vor. Das Buch erscheint als Weltpremiere zuerst in deutscher Sprache.
Looking for reviews for The Restless Dead? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.29 out of 5 stars based on 7 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: 4.41 out of 5 stars based on 32 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 4.13 out of 5 stars based on 653 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: not rated
Library Thing: 3.89 out of 4 stars based on 14 ratings
Total Score 4.14 (updated 6/29/17)