From the very first page where we are treated to a graphic description of what happens to a body when it is immersed in water, to the last page, there is no doubting the research that has gone into making the descriptions of our narrator, David Hunter, forensic anthropologist, feel absolutely realistic.
Composed of over sixty per cent water itself, a human body isn’t naturally buoyant. It will float only for as long as there is air in its lungs, before gradually sinking to the bottom as the air seeps out. If the water is very cold or deep, it will remain there, undergoing a slow, dark dissolution that can take years. But if the water is warm enough for bacteria to feed and multiply, then it will continue to decompose. Gases will build up in the intestines, increasing the body’s buoyancy until it floats again.
And the dead will literally rise . . .
David Hunter’s role at the university is under threat, he now suspects that he has been blacklisted as an advisor in murder investigations and without the kudos this role brings, his new contract for work at the university is in question. Added to this he has been invited to a house party in the Cotswolds for the weekend by his dear friends, only to find that they are trying to set him up with a woman. He dutifully packs his bags with more than a whiff of reluctance and then as he is about to leave he gets a call from the police about a badly decomposed body they’ve found in the Backwater’s Estuary in Essex.
Although this looks to be a fairly open and shut case of the suicide of a local missing man, the police and David Hunter still try to definitively identify the body despite obstacles being put in their way by the father of the suspected victim. Alongside this investigation there is another into a missing woman who had links to the named man and then by a series of unfortunate events David Hunter finds himself personally involved with some of the interested parties in the case.
The first section of the book moves slowly from an action perspective but fully lays the ground for a whodunit of massive proportions. If you’re reading preference tends more towards the action side of crime fiction then you will not be disappointed by the way the pace picks up in the second half of the book where the danger comes up close and personal.
Rarely does a crime fiction book so intrinsically entwine the setting so totally into the story. The Restless Dead would simply not have been the same book without the danger of the wetlands, the creeks that criss-cross the landscape with water rushing in on those unaware of the dangers of this particular location. Added to that we have the atmosphere and eloquent descriptions of the houses, and their inhabitants set alongside the dangerous tides.
I will now admit that I have only read the first book in this series, The Chemistry of Death, and it was clear that I’d missed some excitement in the intervening three books, but in no way did this spoil the enjoyment I got out of reading The Restless Dead which had me gripped by the series of mysteries to solve which kept my theories in a total sense of flux.
I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin Random House for providing me with a copy of The Restless Dead ahead of the publication date of 6 April 2017. This review is my unbiased thanks to them, and the talented author Simon Beckett for keeping me entranced in the world of decomposed bodies, mysteries aplenty, a few broken characters and a smattering of love interest all in a region set apart by virtue of its unpredictable landscape.