Book Review: The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett

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“A human body starts to decompose four minutes after death.”

So starts The Chemistry Of Death by Simon Beckett and this macabre beginning sets the tone for the horror that will unfold in the village of Manham as the bodies of two apparently unrelated woman are found.

Beckett very skilfully moves from this cold, scientific description of death to the effects the discovery of the body has on the community; from the two young brothers who discover the remains to reminders of a past our sleuth, Doctor David Hunter, is trying to forget.

The author throws up many red herrings in the narrative and I am happy to say that I was wrong about who I thought the killer was. I like to be surprised and didn’t feel cheated when the killer was revealed. Mr. Beckett created characters I cared for and I was so gripped by the story that I finished the book over two evenings. I’d award this book 4*.

So, why am I not giving the book a five star review?

There were too many ‘semaphores’ for my liking, where the author left the linear narrative to figuratively tap the side of his nose in a knowing gesture, hinting that he knew what was going to happen. For example, “In the coming days I would look back on this afternoon as one last glimmer of blue sky before the storm.” And “I didn’t know it then, but that was about to be proved in the way I least expected.” This jarred given that the book was written, on the whole, in the first person.

Would I read Written In Bone, the next book in the series? Certainly. But I’d hope there would be fewer distractions from the narrative in this one.
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2 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    Feb 9, 2011

    Nettie – Thanks for this fine review :-). I actually like Simon Beckett’s work, so I’m glad you basically enjoyed this novel. I have to agree with you, though, about those semaphores. Beckett does tend to do that. I think you’ll like Written in Bone and Whispers of the Dead, however. They’re both solid thrillers. However, I strongly suggest you read the books in order. There are spoilers to Written in Bone in Whispers of the Dead

    • nettiewriter
      Feb 9, 2011

      Thanks for that, Margot, I’ll make sure to read them in order. Nxxx

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