Before I read Case Histories, I read a little run of crime fiction which I hadn’t reviewed here for various reasons. I’ll mention two of these books now: The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett; and Bones by Jan Burke, which share a common decomposing theme.
Jan Burke writes a series featuring journalist Irene Kelly, and comes recommended by the peerless Sarah Weinman. Being me, I read the first in the series, Goodnight Irene, and did not think much of it. Sarah commented that the later books in the series are better, so I read Bones. She’s right, it is a lot better: Irene has ‘grown up’, and the book is far less romantic girly thriller genre and more straight Reichs/Cornwell territory. What was the problem? The plot. The first half was a tight and tense account of Irene and various police and forestry specialists searching a remote mountainous region for some old murder victims, accompanied by said murderer. Inevitably, the murderer escapes, hunts Irene, etc. The second half, however, drags; everyone kind of sits around waiting for something to happen, which in the last few pages, it does — predictable and perfunctory. There are plenty of descriptions of bones, the villain’s creepy obsessions, and hints at evil acts, but nothing that made me too queasy ( I did skip a few of these passages). I found the "twist" (if you can call it that) — the identity of "Moth" — rather obvious. Sarah says that Burke’s latest, Bloodlines, is her best, so I may give her a "third strike and you’re out" go when the book is available in paperback over here.
The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett is a debut novel that received excellent reviews when it was published in March; because it was very cheap on Amazon I bought a copy. Having now read the book, eight months later, I can confirm that it is well-written. Although it is of the Cornwell/Reichs-with-a-dash-of Thomas Harris genre, it isn’t too gruesome for me (i.e. it does not lovingly dwell on the gory bits). The passages I liked the best were the descriptions of various ways in which the exact time of death could be pinpointed. The parts I liked least were the cliched "hero with tragic past" aspects. The girlfriend character, necessary for the plot, is unconvincing — and of course ends up in a very predictable situation. The other problem with the book is that the villain has to be one of two people as there are no other suspects. I guessed wrong because I went for the least obvious. But I think the book is pretty assured taken as a whole, and I believe this author will get even better with future books.