Friday, October 22, 2010

Review: The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid

Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2006

Present day murder with its roots in the 18th century.

Summertime in England and heavy rain over the Lake District fells has uncovered a bizarrely tattooed body. Could it be linked to the old rumour that Fletcher Christian, mutinous First Mate on the Bounty, had secretly returned to England?
Scholar Jane Gresham wants to find out. She believes that the Lakeland poet William Wordsworth , a friend of Christian's may have sheltered the fugitive and turned his tale into an epic poem which has never been found. As she follows each lead and begins to interview descendants of Wordworth's servant, Dorcas, death is hard on her heels. There are others who realise that this lost poem would be worth a great deal of money.

Jane has more to deal with than research. A snarky and resentful brother, an ex-boyfriend who deals in rare manuscripts, and the unexpected presence of a young girl she mentors in London who is mixed up in arson and murder.

All of this adds up to several subplots and it's to the author's credit that she manages to weave them all together so successfully, but personally I thought it one or two too many which tended to slow the central action down at times.
Val McDermid is well known for her contemporary crime novels but this one steps into a different area with the historical content. Interspersed between chapters is a supposed letter to Wordsworth from Christian relating details of the Bounty and his life following the mutiny and there are also glimpses of Wordsworth's life and descriptions of the beautiful Lake District which make for interesting reading.

The Grave Tattoo is well written and constructed and a good crime read but it isn't as exciting and suspenseful as some of her other books. It should appeal to readers who like a mixture of history and mystery and I did enjoy it very much.


  1. This sounds like a good one, even if all the subplots weighed down the story a bit.

  2. I love the title of this one but doesn't seem enough for me. Thanks for honest review.

  3. My firend at work recently gave me one of Vals books. I have to admit that crime fiction isn't my bag but I'm still going to give it a go (the book is A Place of Exacution)