Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Chemistry of Death – Simon Beckett

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction

Whilst reading the last few books I realised that I’d overdosed on the psychological thriller genre (again) and decided to pick a straightforward crime fiction novel instead. Surprisingly, I had just the one on the TBR with The Chemistry of Death having been one of the 20 Books of Summer that I didn’t quite get to.

Following the tragic death of his wife and daughter David Hunter lands in a remote village of Manham in Norfolk as a partner to the resident doctor. The villagers are, as those in tight-knit communities tend to be, slow to take to him and still prefer Doctor Henry Maitland to tend to their ills, despite the fact that he has been badly disabled by a car accident. The two doctors initially share the house as well as the surgery but as David Hunter is slowly tolerated, if not accepted, he decides to put down roots and moves to a nearby house. All is going tolerably well, he drinks in the local pub and makes light conversation with some of the locals and is even invited to a barbeque until the body of a woman is found in the woods. The outsiders are under suspicion!

What the locals don’t know is that Dr David Hunter is a forensic anthropologist who has actually visited the body farm in the US – something I learnt about in for the first time through another crime fiction novel. When the police talk to him regarding their suspicions about his past he is forced to reveal that he is one of the few in the country. It isn’t long before he is asked to carry out his specialism on the crime committed, something our protagonist is keen to avoid having shunned the limelight and the associated dead bodies following the tragedy in his personal life.

Soon more bodies are found but The Chemistry of Death somehow raises the bar beyond the horrors of the crimes committed, although I don’t recommend this for the squeamish, because of the exceptional quality of the writing by the author. Not only is this superbly plotted with a classic whodunit at the heart of the novel, the prose seems to effortlessly conjure up the village, its inhabitants and their interactions. It is soon clear everything is not as it first appeared and not only does Simon Beckett throw in enough red herrings to keep the reader on their toes, he keeps it real and no major revelations made that don’t have the clues to back them up. A must in my opinion for a successful and more importantly satisfactory crime novel.

With David Hunter providing the narration in his calm manner, by which I mean he fully captures the horror of the murders but still carries out his duties both as a doctor and a forensic anthropologist with exceptional care, we get his pitch perfect tone to walk us through the events as they unfold. What a joy to have a tale told in such a straightforward way with no writer’s ‘tricks’ to keep us on the edge of our seats, there is no need when the quality of the prose is as good as this is.

I have read one of Simon Beckett’s standalone novels, Stone Bruises, which I also thoroughly enjoyed and I will definitely be catching up with the next book in the David Hunter series Written in Bone, before too long.

First Published UK: 1 March 2006
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Crime Fiction Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

27 thoughts on “The Chemistry of Death – Simon Beckett

  1. So glad you enjoyed your first experience with Simon Beckett’s writing, Cleo. I think he’s very talented. You’re right that this one (and the next one, Whispers of the Dead) do have some ‘not for the squeamish’ scenes. But as you say, the writing is skilled, and I do like David Hunter’s character.


  2. I checked out this author’s books, and they sound really good to me, a lover of suspense and mysteries. What makes me hesitate are the moments not meant for the squeamish that you mention. I don’t like to read very graphic or sadistic violence, so if that’s in his works I might need to step back. Thanks!


    1. It is an excellent mystery and written incredibly well but there are descriptive scenes, more of the aftermath of the murder than gratuitous violence, but if you would rather all elements happen ‘off stage’ this will probably put you off.


  3. I need to add more crime fiction to my list…which reminds me that I have more Louise Penny books to explore.

    When you mentioned the doctor going to a remote village, I was reminded of the Netflix show Doc Martin, and how the locals didn’t accept him.

    Thanks for sharing.


  4. This sounds excellent – I do like a nice straightforward narrative. And I don’t really mind the gruesome details so long as it not sensationalised and too gratuitous. Hmm… I shall have to consider this one, though as you know I am the Queen of Willpower…


  5. Great review! Looks awesome. I’m always so hyper-fixated on new titles… I love reading great reviews of backlisted titles. I’ve adding this one to my highly unmanageable TBR. 😉


  6. Despite the fact that I fall into the squeamish category, I really like the sound of this book, and I feel like giving it a try. The writing and the small village atmosphere appeal to me! Psychological thrillers are a great gateway but it’s good to take a breather with a slightly different genre once in a while 🙂


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