Simon Beckett’s Dr. David Hunter Series

Simon_BeckettAbout the author:

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 latest book in the series is entitled The Scent of Death was released on 2/21/19 in e-book format. Hardbound copy will be available 4/18/19.

Review of the latest in the series – The Scent of Death

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.

Simon’s pick:

Most Favorite Novel in the Series-The Scent of Death, because of the creepy hospital setting and the best forensics in the series.

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.

Goodreads Forensic Fiction Best List

Most Favorite in the series: The Scent of Death with a score of 4.27

Least Favorite in the series: Calling of the Grave with a score of 3.96

Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Library Thing, Rakuten Kobo, and Amazon

Chemistry_of_Death#1-Chemistry of Death- 2006

Listed #14 out of 121 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List

Listed #104 out of 172 on Goodreads Science Thriller Book List

First Line:

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 Setting

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:

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Amazon Rating: 4.44 out of 5 stars based on 308 ratings

Rakuten Kobo: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 4.09 out of 5 stars based on 21,539 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.99 out of 4 stars based on 526 ratings

Total Score 4.09  (updated 10/20/20)




Written_in_Bone#2-Written in Bone- 2007           

Listed #15 out of 121 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List

Listed #138 out of 168 on Goodreads Science Thriller Book List

First Line:

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 Setting

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:

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Amazon Rating: 4.49 out of 5 stars based on 269 ratings

Rakuten Kobo: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 4.14 out of 5 stars based on 12,229 ratings

Library Thing: 3.92 out of 4 stars based on 342 ratings

Total Score 4.14 (updated 10/20/20)




#3-Whispers of the Dead- 2009                

Listed #16 out of 121 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List

A Sample Audio Clip

First Line:



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

The Setting

Knoxville, Tennessee

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:

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The Book Review Station

Amazon Rating: 4.62 out of 5 stars based on 245 ratings

Rakuten Kobo: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 4.08 out of 5 stars based on 9,532 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.94 out of 4 stars based on 260 ratings

Total Score 4.09 (updated10/20/20)



Calling_of_the_Grave#4-The Calling of the Grave- 2010

Listed #121 out of 121 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List

First Line:



David Hunter

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 Setting

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:

The Book Review Station

Auntie M Writes- Mystery Writer MK Graff

Amazon Rating-US: 4.43 out of 5 stars based on 249 ratings

Rakuten Kobo: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 3.95 out of 5 stars based on 7,298 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.82 out of 4 stars based on 141 ratings

Total Score 3.96  (updated 10/20/20)




katz_maus#4.5-Katz und Maus- 2013 (novella) (German edition only)

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.




restless_dead#5-The Restless Dead (Totenfang)- 2017

Listed #100 out of 121 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List

Listed #154 out of 172 on Goodreads Science Thriller Book List

My review of The Restless Dead

First Line:

Compose of over sixty percent water, a human body isn’t naturally buoyant.


David Hunter

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

The Setting

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.

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Amazon Rating: 4.57 out of 5 stars based on 175 ratings

Rakuten Kobo: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 4.11 out of 5 stars based on 3,775 ratings

Library Thing: 4.08 out of 4 stars based on 57 ratings

Total Score 4.13 (updated 10/20/20)

#6-The Scent of Death – 2019

My review of the The Scent of Death

First Line:

Most people assume they’d know the scent of death.


David Hunter and Rachel Derby

The Setting


It has been a good summer for forensics expert Dr David Hunter. His relationship is going well and he’s in demand again as a police consultant. His life seems to be on an even keel. 

But not for long. The call comes from an old associate: a body has been found, and she’d like Hunter to take a look . . .

St Jude’s Hospital now stands empty. Slowly rotting and silently awaiting demolition, the vast, oppressive building’s only visitors have been society’s outcasts, addicts and dealers. And it’s here that the partially mummified corpse has been discovered. Hunter is not sure how long the body has been hidden in the hospital’s cavernous loft, but he’s seen enough to know it’s a young woman. And that she was pregnant. 

As the remains are removed for closer examination, a floor collapses revealing a previously sealed off part of a ward. Bricked up inside this hidden chamber are three beds. Two of them are occupied . . .
What other grisly secrets will St Jude’s reveal? The local community is alarmed and the police need answers. For David Hunter, what began as a challenging if straightforward case is about to become a twisted nightmare threatening him and those around him. 

Most people assume they’d know the scent of death. That decay has a distinctive, readily identifiable odour, a foul reek of the grave.

They’re wrong.

Looking for reviews for The Scent of Death? Check out:

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Amazon Rating: 4.49 out of 5 stars based on 225 ratings

Rakuten Kobo: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 4.16 out of 5 stars based on 377 ratings

Library Thing: 3.95 out of 4 stars based on 28 ratings

Total Score 4.27 (updated 10/20/20)

2 thoughts on “Simon Beckett’s Dr. David Hunter Series

    1. Simon Beckett’s last book is a standalone called “Stone Bruises” and came out a year ago, so I am expecting something to come out before too long but I don’t know at the moment what it might be. I do keep close tabs when the next book comes out in the series and I will post as soon as I know, so keep checking back.

      Love to see McGregor in Hunter series.

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