In Association with

Fresh Blood

Name: Simon Beckett

Title of Book: The Chemistry of Death

‘I stormed through this book - and suggest you do the same.’


Dr. David Hunter arrives in the Norfolk village of Manham after a devastating tragedy in his life. He has run away from life and buried himself in the mundane lifestyle of a country doctor treating the simple ailments of the local inhabitants. Three years after his arrival a body turns up in the woods. Just like Dr. Hunter, the victim was an outsider. Her body has been badly mutilated.

Then a second woman disappears. This one is a native of Manham. The villagers start to think it must be an outsider as it can’t possibly be one of their own. Dr. Hunter is called in by the police to help them with their enquiries. Hunter held a special position within police investigations before he came to Manham. The locals believe he is guilty and turn on him. Once they know he is not the guilty party they start to turn upon each other. Then another girl is taken and it is a race against time to find her before she too is found dead.


This book is the first in a new series featuring Dr. David Hunter and if The Chemistry of Death is any indication, then it will certainly be a series to watch! Dr. Hunter is a Forensic Anthropologist and has helped the police in a number of cases. A personal trauma sends him hiding in the village of Manham until a spate of murders brings him out of enforced retirement.

The murders themselves are very gruesome and symbolic, but you can tell that Simon Beckett has learned a lot during his stay at the Body Farm in Tennessee. The facts about identifying the time a body has been decomposing are fascinating and described to the reader in simple layman’s terms. There is never any sense that the author is giving you facts just to “show off”. It’s like you are looking over Dr. Hunter’s shoulder.

It really does become a race against time near the end of the book and the slick writing conveys the feeling of dread that this investigation, and with it the life of a potential victim, could go either way. I stormed through this book - and suggest you do the same. I am sure that you will not be disappointed and, like me, will be craving the next instalment of Dr. David Hunter very soon.

Reviewed by: C. S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) What type of crime writing would you say you write?

I suppose this novel falls under the banner of a forensic crime thriller, because the main character’s a forensic anthropologist. But I don’t want it to be too clinical - character and psychological motivation are just as important.

2) What type of crime novel do you prefer? Series or standalone?

It depends entirely on the books. Sometimes a standalone wouldn't work as a
series, but it's great to find characters you can follow. James Lee Burke's
Robicheaux and Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder books are both fantastic. Lee
Child is another writer another I always look out for - his Jack Reacher
novels put me in mind of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. But I think my
favourite series has to be Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise. There aren't
many books I can keep going back to, but those hook me every time.

3) Have you always had ideas to write a crime novel?

Pretty much, though I can’t remember ever sitting down and thinking ‘I’m going to be a crime writer’. I think it was more a case of my ideas tending more towards the darker aspects of life. So it was a natural development rather than a conscious decision.

4) What influenced you to write a crime novel in the first place?

I enjoy reading crime. I think it covers such a huge variety of fiction – literary, period, even SF. There’s scope to cover just about anything you want, and for a writer that’s very attractive.

5) What is your favourite crime read of all time?

Difficult, so I’m going to cheat and pick two. Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye is a classic. For my money it’s where his character, Philip Marlowe, finally transcends the hard-boiled genre. The other is A Taste for Death by Peter O’Donnell. I’ve already mentioned the Modesty Blaise series, and while they’re all good I think that one is the best.

6) Would you describe yourself as a Crime fan and if so, which authors do you most admire?

I’m very much a crime fan. I’ve already mentioned some authors I admire, but others would include Mo Hayder, who’s going from strength to strength, and Harlan Coben, who I think is hard to beat when it comes to a real adrenaline-charged read.

7) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?

It’s probably a cliché, but I’d say ‘Silence of the Lambs’. There’s a terrific performance from Jodie Foster, and Anthony Hopkin’s Lecter has to go down as one of the great screen villains – or anti-heroes – of all time.

8) Without giving away the ending, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?

I’m going to stick with Thomas Harris for this. It’s years since I last read it, but I really didn’t see the ending of Red Dragon coming. It’s a beautiful day, everything’s been resolved, and then… Terrific. And very difficult to pull off.

9) In your new novel you have incorporated some of the experiences from your visit to the National Forensic Academy. Could you briefly explain to us what it was that made such an impression on you to go on and write The Chemistry of Death?

Quite a few things, but largely the trip the NFA students made to the Body Farm in Tennessee. They were all experienced police officers and crime scene investigators, but that didn’t stop them from being very nervous about what they’d encounter. It was a truly unique place, and while the whole idea of using decomposition to find out the who, what and where of murder victims might be gruesome, it’s undeniably fascinating at the same time.

10) The Chemistry of Death is the first in a planned series featuring Dr. David Hunter. Will you be including more relevant facts that you picked up from the NFA?

I wouldn’t be at all surprised. There are a few British forensic specialists who help me with the research as well. But perhaps a return trip to Tennessee, and hopefully even the Body Farm, will be on the cards sometime in the future.

11) Where do you see crime fiction going next?

With Patricia Cornwall now officially more popular with British readers than Catherine Cookson, crime fiction is obviously in the ascendant. So perhaps the next step would be for some crime novels to be recognised as ‘proper’ literature (and please note the inverted commas here). Though I can’t see a slasher novel being short-listed by the Booker any time soon…