The Restless Dead

Written by Simon Beckett

Review written by Philip Gooden

His historical novels include the Nick Revill series, set in Elizabethan London, a Victorian sequence, and a series of Chaucer mysteries, now in in e-books.


The Restless Dead
Bantam Press
RRP: £12.99
Released: April 06, 2017
Hbk

The Restless Dead marks the return after a fair gap of forensic anthropologist David Hunter, the series character who first appeared in Simon Beckett’s Chemistry of Death in 2006.

If forensic anthropology sounds specialist, well so it is. Dr Hunter’s skill lies in assessing the fate of badly decomposed remains, already too far gone for the pathologist, and picking over whatever clues can be gleaned from bits of bone. Indeed, a grisly but realistic section of the new book describes boiling off the remains of soft tissue in a kind of detergent stew so that the clean remains can be reassembled for study.

The Restless Dead kicks off with Hunter at a low ebb, with his university post up for review and with little hope of more police consultancy work after a recent disaster. Then, as has been the way ever since Sherlock Holmes, the call comes and the game’s afoot. Hunter is summoned to the wilds of the Essex mudflats to help identify a body recovered from the treacherous Backwaters.

It is supposedly the remains of Leo Villiers, would-be MP and son of wealthy local businessman Sir Stephen, and a possible suicide after the disappearance of Emma Derby, a glamorous photographer he was involved with. Naturally, Hunter and the local DI, Bob Lundy, find the dead man’s father to be an obstructive string-puller. A local businessman with a title like Sir Stephen isn’t usually a force for good in a crime novel.      

Then, partly through Hunter’s forensic work, it turns out that the body isn’t Leo’s after all, and that that body is only the first. In the meantime Hunter finds himself involved with the family of the missing woman. To be precise, he is saved just before he and his car are swept away by an incoming tide, and his rescuer is Emma Derby’s husband. In plot terms, this allows Hunter to stay on as the investigation unfolds in this strange, bleak but atmospheric corner of Essex.

One of the strengths of The Restless Dead is its sense of place. Another is the solid characterisation and devious plotting. The solutions to the identity of the bodies recovered from the Backwaters as well as those responsible come as proper surprises. When you add to this some fascinating forensic detail, the result is an excellent mystery from Simon Beckett. 

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