Today, I am pleased to be the first stop on the blog tour for The Scent of Death, the latest in Simon Beckett’s David Hunter series. As well as my review, I am thrilled to be able to share an article from the author, explaining how the book came to be.
Over to Simon…
The Scent of Death
Sooner or later, everything comes home to roost. That was in my mind when I sat down to write The Scent of Death, the sixth novel to feature British forensic anthropologist David Hunter. Without giving away any spoilers, in some of the previous novels I’d deliberately left some plot threads dangling. Partly because… well, I like the sense that not everything is tied up in a neat bow at the end of a book. Life isn’t like that.
But I also wanted to return to them at some point, to show how these events from the past continued to resonate in Hunter’s present. The question was how to go about it? I’d originally intended to tie-up these floating ends sooner, but novels tend to have a mind of their own. Plot developments can’t just be shoehorned in. They have to develop naturally, or at least seem to.
Another consideration was that The Scent of Death also had to work as a standalone. I didn’t want a story that only made sense to anyone who’d already read the other books. I wanted new readers to be able to jump right in, without slowing down the narrative with tons of exposition.
Easier said than done.
Writing crime thrillers is a lot about misdirection. A little bit like a stage magician, the aim is to keep the audience distracted until it’s time for the big reveal. That isn’t easy at the best of times, and even less so in a series, where readers have become familiar with both the main character and the author’s bag of tricks. So, in order for this to work, I had to wait for the right story, and the right moment.
By the time I came to write the fifth Hunter novel, The Restless Dead, I was confident I’d found it. The end of that book – don’t worry, still no spoilers – raised the possibility of a return for an old nemesis from Hunter’s past. Only the possibility, mind, because I wanted to keep readers guessing. But the timing felt right, and I knew that opening that particular door would set the stage nicely for the next book.
Of course, the drawback with trying to be clever is that you then have to deliver. Hopefully, that’s what The Scent of Death does. Instead of having Hunter travel to some isolated rural location as in the previous novels, I’ve kept him in London, in what at first seems to be familiar territory (the key words here being at first). The gothic shell of St Jude’s is the sort of place that’s become all too common in the UK, an abandoned hospital standing empty as it waits for the developers’ bulldozers.
Except that these boarded-up windows, echoing corridors, and shadowy wards prove to be hiding all manner of secrets. And, as Hunter discovers, not all of St Jude’s occupants have actually left…
It was a pleasure to write and, I hope, to read as well. Just remember that for misdirection to work, the audience shouldn’t realise that they’re being distracted, or what they’re being distracted from.
Over to you.
Simon Beckett, January 31st 2019.
When the partially mummified body of a pregnant woman is discovered in the attic in an old hospital, forensics expert Dr David Hunter is called upon to aid in the investigation. The case takes a turn for the strange when a floor collapse reveals a hidden room and the bodies of another two people, still in their beds. With St. Jude’s hospital earmarked for development and a group of local protesters determined to thwart the venture, the pressure is on to uncover the truth of what really happened.
From the very start, The Scent of Death grabbed my attention and held it right until the very end. It was very easy to picture St. Jude’s, the description evoking images of a dark, dank, cavernous building with secrets waiting to be uncovered. The floor collapse helped to provide a few heart-in-the-mouth moments in an already tense situation and the discovery of the bodies certainly ramped up the the tension even more.
Although we don’t really get to see much of his personality, I really liked Hunter and admired the dedication he showed to his work. It was for this reason that I felt sorry for the forensic anthropologist who, as part of the investigation from the start, found himself partially sidelined after the hidden room was discovered. Mears, the forensic taphonomist brought in to work the case was a thoroughly unlikable character and I could empathise with the contempt Hunter showed towards him.
The Scent of Death has a very tight plot where everything ties together really well. I love a book where, all of a sudden, everything falls into place and you realise the brilliance of everything you’ve read – this definitely happened here. There was one part of the subplot that I deduced quite early on but, other than that, Simon Beckett kept me waiting until the very end before I worked out who the killer was and the clever motive behind it.
I found Hunter’s job fascinating and enjoyed the scenes where he was at work analysing the skeletal remains of the victims. I can certainly see this series being a huge hit on television and was pleased to read that it is currently in production with BBC Worldwide and Cuba Productions.
The Scent of Death is the sixth David Hunter book and if, like me, you haven’t read the first five, then don’t worry as this can be read as a standalone. I admit to not having any knowledge of this series until I read this one but I will definitely be rectifying this by reading the others as I enjoyed it so much!
With thanks to Hayley Barnes and Penguin Random House for my proof and to Simon Beckett for the fantastic post.