Simon Beckett’s novels featuring forensics expert Dr. David Hunter display the kind of in-depth research that keeps readers like Auntie M coming back. With his painstaking approach to detail Beckett’s novels have a sense of authenticity that at times is eerie, and which applies to other character’s specialties, as well.
When Beckett was writing for the Daily Telegraph Magazine, one assignment took him on a field trip to the world-famous Anthropological Research Facility in Tennessee known as The Body Farm. That visit inspired not only the character of David Hunter, but this recent offering in the series, The Calling of the Grave. “Nothing stays hidden forever” is the last line of the prologue and an apt theme for this absorbing novel that will end in an entirely different way from the reader’s first expectations.
Almost a decade ago a body was found buried on Dartmoor, presumably the work of the psychotic rapist and multiple murderer Jerome Monk. The bodies of two other victims, twin sisters, were never recovered. Called upon to be a part of the recovery team, Hunter is eager to be included in a search of the area when Monk offers to point to where the bodies are buried. The premise allows us to go back into Hunter’s private life as he recalls the the days of the first search, and brilliantly ties those events to others that have severely affected his life.
On the moors Hunter meets Leonard Wainwright, a Cambridge don turned consultant to the police, renowned as a forensics expert, especially in the area of archeology. Part of the team will be the local pathologist, Dr. Pirie, and also Sophie Keller, a Behavioral Investigative Advisor, who will advise on offender’s characteristics and motivations, and will help to plan the strategy and assessment of Monk. DI Terry Connors is a surprise: his wife and Hunter’s own were friends years ago and the men used to see each other socially.
The moor is beautiful described, in all its dark and wild glory, and provides the perfect setting for the shackled prisoner as he arrives after a decoy has shaken reporters off in a different direction. The real prisoner has a hulking presence, powerful presence, with a ghastly congenital indentation in his forehead, “as though he’d been struck with a hammer and somehow survived.” With his crooked mouth and small, empty eyes, the murderer has a chilling effect on those present.
The the unthinkable happens: a nightmarish scenario develops and Monk tried to escape. With great difficulty the police manage to subdue and contain him, but not before he has ruined the career Sophie Keller. With Monk safely behind bars, Hunter returns to London and his wife and daughter–until his own nightmare begins.
Eight years later, Hunter is surprised to find Terry Connor on his doorstep. Both of their lives have changed, not for the better, and Hunter is not happy to see Connor. Then the detective tells him his news: Jerome Monk had suffered a heart attack, and on transfer to a civilian hospital, managed to break his restraints, subdue his guards, and escape into the night. When a panicked Sophie Keller contacts Hunter a few days later, begging him to visit her, he acquiesces. But Keller fails to show up at the pub where they were to meet, and Hunter drives out to her house, only to find her beaten into unconsciousness.
What happens next will bring Hunter into the realm of a murderer, as the members of the original search team begin to be hunted down and murdered, and Hunter realizes he only knows half the real story of the events of eight years ago.
This is a gripping and solid read, with the pacing ratcheted up as Hunter and Sophie try to flee from a maniac on the loose. Or is the real threat closer to home?
Another solid offering from Simon Beckett.