THE RESTLESS DEAD by Simon Beckett, published by Bantam Press
ISBN: Hardback 9780593063477 RRP £12.99; ebook 9781409043034 at £7.99 on Amazon
Simon Beckett is now a “European phenomenon, selling over 6 million copies in Germany alone”, according to the publisher’s blurb on the press release. Yes, I know, I don’t take much notice of such comments either. Still, it was enough to pique my interest and I delved into the book earlier than I should have for the purposes of this review.
Dr David Hunter, a forensics expert, is rather on his uppers at the beginning of this book, which is, I believe, the fifth story in the series. He has been involved in something that went unpleasantly wrong in Devon in the previous book, apparently. It sounds like shades of “Play Misty for Me” or “Fatal Attraction”, but I could be wrong, but the upshot of it all is, that Dr Hunter is going to be losing his position, from the look of things, at his place of work; the police aren’t calling him anymore, and he has no income to speak of.
And then, while packing his bags to go away for the weekend, he receives a phone call from DI Lundy of Essex Police. There is a body, badly decomposed, that has appeared off the coast near Mersea Island, and the police would like him to help recover the body and identify it.
Apparently there shouldn’t be too much trouble figuring out who it is they have found, decomposition or not. Leo Villiers, the 31 year old son of the local magnate, was rumoured to have had an affair with a local married woman, Emma Derby. She has gone missing, as has Leo, and there is a firm conviction amongst the police, and many locals, that he killed her before committing suicide. So it should all be nice and easy.
And of course it would be, apart from Hunter driving over a small ford at the wrong time of the tide, flooding his car and leaving him stranded. He is lucky enough to wave down a car, but later he discovers that the abrasive character who has helped him is the husband of the missing Emma Derby.
This is a good book. It is delightful in the depiction of the countryside, it is interesting in the description of dead bits of body – you know what I mean, the author doesn’t wallow in the gore like some nowadays – and the twisted relationships of the two dead, the father, his son, his sister-in-law, and locals, and I felt that I was in the hands of a thoroughly competent writer.
It is not only the plotting, which is good, it’s the writing. Beckett does have a nice turn of phrase, for example: “houses with cherry trees lining the grass verges. The pink blossom gave the street a celebratory look, like the setting for a wedding.” A nice line that most authors would miss.
I did find it a little difficult to get into originally. I cannot lie. However, I started this in the week that my father died, and that did undoubtedly colour my initial impressions. It wasn’t the book, I don’t think. It was just the family situation. It is true to say that at the end of my days working, it was a relief to put my own work and troubles aside and pick up this and read it.
It is good, with a strong series of characters, an intriguing lead character, and the author has no embarrassment about popping off thoroughly usable people at the drop of a sharp dagger. But, although I really enjoyed this book … there is something that doesn’t quite ring true and I’m not sure what that is.
Perhaps it is just that the blurb was so overblown, I was prepared to be knocked sideways. And yes, it was good. But was it really deserving so much more comment than “Paradise City” by Joe Thomas, or “Amnesia” by Michael Ridpath? No, I don’t think so. Perhaps it was just that it felt quite parochial, set in a small community, with lots of people who knew each other too well. Perhaps. All I can say is, it did not strike me as quite as strong as some books I’ve read this year, and it’s left me wondering whether it was just my family situation or whether it was a weakness in the plot.
I don’t know. However, blurb aside, this was a good read, and you, lucky reader, don’t have to read the blurb if you don’t want to.
So, after weighing it up and considering the options, yes, this is a highly recommended story. I’ll be interested to know what you readers think about it.