Book Review: The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid

Quick Review (read on for full review)

The Grave Tattoo is a complex, intelligent mystery with a great setting and engaging cast of characters. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

From bestselling author Val McDermid comes a modern thriller about an ancient murder set on the high seas…

After summer rains uncover a corpse bearing tattoos like those of eighteenth-century seafarers, many residents of the English Lake District can’t help but wonder whether it’s the body of one of the town’s most legendary fugitives.

Scholar and native Lakelander Jane Gresham feels compelled to finally discover the truth about the myths and buried secrets rooted in her hometown. What she never expected was to find herself at the heart of a 200-year-old mystery that still has the power to put lives on the line. And with each new lead she pursues, death follows hard on her heels….

Favourite Quote

“Jane couldn’t remember a time when Langmere Force hadn’t mesmerised her, taking her out of what ever ailed her and making her feel healed.”

(From The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid, page, 363)

[Note: Langmere Force is a waterfall]

Review

I’ve had a few Val McDermid novels on my bookshelf for a while but The Grave Tattoo is the first one I’ve read, and I must say, I wish I had got to this one sooner.

The Grave Tattoo is a complex, intelligent mystery with a great setting and engaging cast of characters.

I really enjoyed how the two mysteries, the one from 200 years ago and the one unfolding as we read, played out. All the characters were expertly crafted and their personalities and motivations came across as authentic. I also enjoyed the setting. The majority of the story was set in the Lake District and descriptions of waterfalls and hills and lakes, as always, appealed to the geography geek in me.

I found how the older tale was divulged to the reader to be clever, fun and imaginative. Snippets of a manuscript are provided at the end of the chapters, so we can get to hear the story as it was told to the one who recorded it. This way the reader doesn’t have to navigate what can sometimes be difficult changes in POV, time and setting, whilst at the same time the primary modern narrative isn’t interrupted. I thought this worked so well.

The cast of characters is extensive but necessary to the story, and is handled well by the author. I liked the unlikely friendship between Dr Jane Gresham and 13 year old Tenille, who had been written off because of her background. And with my interest in history and archaeology, I found the passages regarding the bog body, affectionately nicknamed “Pirate Peat” in the book by the forensic pathologist studying him, fascinating.

I will certainly be reading more of the author’s books because I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Rating

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