The Scent of Death by Simon Beckett

Bantam Press | 2019 (18 April) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Scent of Death by Simon BeckettLate one night forensic anthropologist David Hunter is called by police to St Jude’s Hospital in North London. The hospital is derelict, awaiting demolition. A workman has discovered a partially mummified body in the attic. The victim is young and pregnant. It’s a desperately sad scene. But it’s about to get much worse. The attic floor collapses and reveals a walled-up chamber beneath and in it are beds and some of them have more bodies in them.

It’s up to Hunter, alongside DI Ward, to find out who these people are and find their killer. Not surprisingly, the case attracts media attention and the pressure is really on DI Ward. This is the first murder case that she’s led. Her superiors are watching. Hunter doesn’t have things his own way, either. There is another forensic scientist on the scene. But there’s something not quite right about him. But Hunter is determined not to let it get to him. His private life is looking up for once. He’s getting more offers of work. It’s not all perfect by any means but things are certainly on the up. But that’s before the malevolence of St Jude’s Hospital starts to creep its way under Hunter’s skin.

The Scent of Death is the sixth novel to feature David Hunter but it’s the first that I’ve read. I had no trouble reading and enjoying it as a stand alone crime thriller. There is a theme that runs through the book from earlier novels and it’s an important one but it’s very easy to pick things up. The mystery is self-contained and it’s macabre and it’s also absolutely fascinating.

St Jude’s Hospital dominates the novel. It’s dark, sinister and menacing. It’s described brilliantly. Hunter grows to hate it and we can certainly see why. The whole premise of The Scent of Death is irresistible and the book more than lives up to it. The title is also very fitting indeed. Hunter frequently recalls the smells associated with the dead, especially those that have been mummified. The dead play such a key role. We’re not allowed to forget who they are, that they deserve justice.

I enjoyed the interplay between Hunter and Ward and the other officers and officials involved on the case. Everyone seems to have their own reasons to solve it. The pressure is immense. The case is also extremely and pleasingly complicated. I loved the meticulousness of the novel, the detail of the investigation, its tricks and red herrings. The way in which it develops is staggering. I hung onto every word. It’s clever but it’s also gripping. Hunter’s private life is important but it doesn’t overwhelm the mystery – it complements it. The Scent of Death clearly demonstrates Simon Beckett’s storytelling powers. I’m hooked and will not miss any of these books in the future. I like David Hunter very much. I want to meet him again.

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