Today is my turn on the blog tour for Simon Beckett’s brand new David Hunter book THE RESTLESS DEAD. My review is just below, but first up Simon Beckett is telling us what it’s like to live with the same character for a length of time and it’s fascinating!
Writing a series with a returning character is a little like having a permanent houseguest. Even though they’re not physically in the room with you, you’re always aware of their presence. They’re likely to join you unannounced at the dinner table, disturb your sleep and – from time to time – cause a certain amount of disruption.
I’ve been living with David Hunter, my series character, for more than ten years. So has my wife, who fortunately likes him. A forensic anthropologist with a tragic past, Hunter has accompanied us on holidays, made himself felt at weekends, and been the cause of more than a few heated conversations. At his best he’s obliging and good company. At his worst… Well, it wasn’t for nothing that I came close to killing him off in one book.
I was recently asked by an interviewer if I’d like to take Hunter to the pub and have a beer with him. My admittedly glib answer was no, on the grounds that we see quite enough of each other as it is. The truth is he’s generally there anyway, unobtrusive perhaps, but always in the background. Still, since he’s been responsible for the main part of my income for the past decade, at least I can’t accuse him of not buying a round.
Admittedly, my relationship with Hunter hasn’t always been smooth. I’ve been accused of giving him a hard time, but he’s more than capable of returning the favour. It would make things much easier if he was less set in his ways, for instance. More of an extrovert, less prone to brooding and self-doubt. If, just once, he decided to punch or quip his way out of a tight spot, it would help no end to resolve some of the situations I put him in.
But that wouldn’t work. I might be the one pulling Hunter’s strings, but I know if I try tugging in the wrong direction they’re going to break. Character development is one thing, but after five books Hunter’s personality is too well-formed to allow liberties to be taken. He’s his own man, with a character all his own, and the writing goes a lot smoother when I accept that.
Of course, as in most relationships there are occasions when a little time apart is needed. After the fourth novel in the series, The Calling of the Grave, I decided to take a break from Hunter to write Stone Bruises, a standalone psychological thriller. It was refreshing putting myself into another’s character’s head, one who could react in a different way and encounter different situations to the introspective loner I’d spent the past few years with. But Hunter even then was never far away, biding his time and waiting to pick up where we’d left off.
Which we did, and The Restless Dead was the result. It’s possible that at some point in the future I’ll feel the need to take another break, and maybe start a completely new series. If I do, though, it’s a safe bet that a certain forensic anthropologist will make his presence felt again sooner or later.
Hunter’s nothing if not patient.
The Restless Dead is my first Simon Beckett novel, but it won’t be my last. I love books about forensic anthropologists, if only because the science of it fascinates me. Plus it reminds me of Temperance Brennan and how I wish I still watched Bones. (If Netflix would get it, I would watch it again, all the way through.) It’s also the fifth book in the David Hunter series, not that I think you need to read the other books – I haven’t, but I will, because I’m one of those weird people who like to make sure I know everything about the characters. But we learn about things that happened in David’s past and we know how he’s come to this point in his life – where his work has dried up with the police force, which isn’t entirely his fault; the fact the University might well let him go, and he’s kind of lost.
I really liked The Restless Dead. It wasn’t the most fast-paced book I’ve ever read but it was super compelling. Like I’ve already said, I love reading about forensic anthropology and the plot itself was fascinating. I like how sure David is in his work, I liked how the second half of the book was quite tense, and the payoff from the first half was incredible.
The setting of this book was also fantastic, quite eerie, and it really sets the tone for the whole novel, now that I’m thinking about it. I’m really pleased I was asked to be part of this blog tour – it isn’t my usual kind of read, and I don’t normally just jump into a series without having read the previous books but I enjoyed getting to know David and I am very, very intrigued to go back and read his previous forays!
‘Composed of over sixty per cent water itself, a human body isn’t naturally buoyant. It will float only for as long as there is air in its lungs, before gradually sinking to the bottom as the air seeps out. If the water is very cold or deep, it will remain there, undergoing a slow, dark dissolution that can take years. But if the water is warm enough for bacteria to feed and multiply, then it will continue to decompose. Gases will build up in the intestines, increasing the body’s buoyancy until it floats again.
And the dead will literally rise . . . ‘
Once one of the country’s most respected forensics experts, Dr David Hunter is facing an uncertain professional – and personal – future. So when he gets a call from Essex police, he’s eager for the chance to assist them.
A badly decomposed body has been found in a desolate area of tidal mudflats and saltmarsh called the Backwaters. Under pressure to close the case, the police want Hunter to help with the recovery and identification.
It’s thought the remains are those of Leo Villiers, the son of a prominent businessman who vanished weeks ago. To complicate matters, it was rumoured that Villiers was having an affair with a local woman. And she too is missing.
But Hunter has his doubts about the identity. He knows the condition of the unrecognizable body could hide a multitude of sins. Then more remains are discovered – and these remote wetlands begin to give up their secrets . . .
With its eerie, claustrophobic sense of place, viscerally authentic detail and explosive heart-in-mouth moments, The Restless Dead offers a masterclass in crime fiction and marks the stunning return of one of the genre’s best.