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 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
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.