The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett

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The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A fast-paced thriller based in rural Norfolk and featuring forensic scientist David Hunter had us hooked from page one and gave a neat twist at the end. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Bantam
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0553817492

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It's three years since Dr David Hunter abandoned his old life in London and moved to a Norfolk village after the death of his wife and young daughter. He's gone into partnership with the local GP who has been crippled in the car accident which killed his wife. In his old life Hunter was a forensic anthropologist but he's reluctant to be drawn into the investigation when a body is found in the village. His hand is forced when a second woman disappears from the village and it's obvious that there is a serial killer at large. He has to dredge up old memories and face the paranoia of the village as it realises that the killer must be one of them.

I lost yesterday. I picked this book up in the middle of the morning just to see if looked as though it would appeal to me. I finally put it down as I finished it yesterday evening and I've absolutely no idea what happened to the day. By the time I'd read the first page I was completely hooked. Simon Beckett is said to be in the mould of Patricia Cornwell, but I think that does him a disservice - he's far better, using facts which could be morbid to inform rather than horrify the reader. My own thought is that he's comparable with Kathy Reichs at her best and as this is his first novel there's a strong possibility that he's going to get better.

The central character, David Hunter, is sympathetic and appealing. His wife and young daughter have never really left him and whilst he's over the initial grief he's not yet ready to move on. His social life is limited to occasional trips to the local pub. He's a man folded up within himself, who's being forced into remembering old skills. There's a fine supporting cast too - one that will be familiar to anyone who knows village life - ranging from the fine and upstanding to the extreme and eccentric. Beckett has village life - and the Norfolk landscape to perfection.

The pace is gripping. It never lets up for a moment, but somehow never seems rushed. The main action takes place over a relatively short period of time and there's a real twist at the end that I wasn't expecting, despite the fact that all the clues are there. I was convinced that I knew whodunit - but I was completely wrong, as well as being terrified that all was not going to work out as it should. When I put the book down my heart was still racing.

If I have one mild concern about this book and the sequel which is to follow it's about the forensic aspect. It's not a subject which I have read in any depth but there was little there that was new to me and ultimately the solution to the crime didn't rest on forensic evidence. There is only so much that can be done with the same bugs and insects chomping at the body post-mortem and I do hope that Simon Beckett hasn't exhausted his store of knowledge on the subject.

It's still a damn good story though and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag. We also have a review of Beckett's Stone Bruises.

If this type of book appeals to you, you might also enjoy The Edge by Clare Curzon, or Losing You by Nicci French, both of which are similarly fast-paced thrillers.

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Buy The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett at


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Trevor Dawson said:

Sounds like my sort of book, can't wait to read it and be gripped.

wheeliegirl73631 said:

After reading the book review of The Chemistry Of Death I can'T wait to start reading the book itself.I am a big fan of Kathy Reichs and any thriller with a forensic side.I have recently read Losing You by Nicci French which I read in almost one sitting.The different sides to Simon Becketts character David Hunter is appealing and I found the review to draw me into both the character and the plot.

purplevodka said:

Think Il have to put this on my "to buy" list - I love a book yoyu can lose a day to.

lisa2062 said:

I'm a huge fan of thrillers, especially the more faster paced ones. I find they are real page turners as opposed to ones who drag on with too much irrelevant information.

What's even more appealing is you say it's not obvious whodunit. This sounds similar in style to the PJ Tracy books which I'm enjoying at the moment, so will have to check out this one. Lisa

laurasteward said:

Sounds really good!

Beverley Kerry said:

This sounds like an interesting book. I love forensic crimes and thrillers but unfortunately the book is usually marred for me by my figuring out "whodunnit" by the middle of the story.

The personal involvement of the main character via the medium of having him face his own demons sounds like it would make an in-depth, meaty element instead of a straightforward story.

Probably not one I would have picked from the bookshelf for myself, but the review has made me commit the title to memory and I intend to look out for it.

marksinclair said:

Haven't read the book, but the review has certainly made me interested.With the resurgence of series like "Cold Cases" and "CSI: Miami/Los Angeles/New York" etc. the book should go down very well with readers.

tjhack said:

The chemistry of death? 02 - 02

jochrisbryan said:

Losing a day now thats my kind of time.

I love the description of David Hunter, by the reviewer.

At first I believed this would be a murder mystery that made me yawn, but I sat up as Kathy Reichs was brought in as a comparison.

Sounds to me as if I need to book that day very soon.

paulfoxton said:

Not to be confused with Samuel Beckett (the time traveller or the playwright) Simon Beckett takes the forensic genre to new heights taking it out of the city and into the country. Resplendent wiht characterisation of the greatest calibre and main protagonist David Hunter and all his baggage make this book one to read!