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The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid - Review

Sunday, October 29, 2023

I saw this book in paperback when I was on holiday in the Lake District in July, as it is set in the area and was on one of those 'local interest' tables. I couldn't justify buying it but then it was reduced on Kindle a few weeks later and was in a set of three with two other books for just £1.99 I think, so I bought it. I was really looking forward to it so I read it when on holiday when I really had chance to savour it. It was really good and I'm glad I read it, and now I'm looking forward to the other two books in the collection. 

So the main protagonist is a woman called Jane. She is from the Lake District and her family still lives up there, including her parents, her brother Matthew, who is often nasty to her, Matthew's wife and child. She lives in London in a tiny flat on a bit of a grotty estate. She is a lecturer at a university, an English lecturer with a particular expertise in William Wordsworth (who was of course from Cumbria himself and made his home in the Lake District). 

A body has been found in a peat bog, perfectly preserved. It becomes known that it has some distinctive tattoos that are similar to those found on people who travelled in the South Pacific. Jane wonders if it could be the body of Fletcher Christian, known for the mutiny on the Bounty and the consequent settling on Pitcairn Island. You see, she is a proponent of a theory that says that Fletcher managed to return to England and met with Wordsworth (who he went to school with) and told the real story of what happened on the Bounty. Jane has seen a fragment of a letter from Wordsworth's wife to one of his sons which makes reference to a 'document' and which Jane therefore thinks has been passed down to some relatives, etc etc. She gets a leave of absence from work and heads home to investigate, via many elderly people in the close area of where she's from. She doesn't seem to live an unhappy life in London, just a bit of a lonely one. She also works in a bar and has a couple of friends from work and the bar. 

There is also Tenille. Tenille is black and lives near to Jane. She is bright but permanently bunks of school. She does love poetry like Jane, though. She has lost her mum and lives with her aunt. Recently, her aunt's boyfriend has been paying her a creepy amount of attention and she confides in Jane that she is worried he will abuse her. Jane is about to leave for Cumbria and she is worried, so she asks Tenille's dad (who isn't in her life) for help. Things happen that I won't spoil and Tenille has to go on the run. Police question Jane about her in Cumbria, but surely Tenille won't get that far... 

Then there is also Jake. Jake is Jane's ex boyfriend and at the beginning of the book he is in Greece with his new girlfriend, Caroline. He is an antiquities dealer and Caroline is his boss. They are both ruthless people and when they get wind of what Jane is on the trail of, they want it, so they can make money off it. Jake heads back to England to try to make up with Jane and work out what she knows. 

There's the pathologist who is looking at the body, too. I liked her and Jane a lot and hope they pop up in other books too. The pathologist, River, also starts a relationship with one of the Cumbria police who I also likeds and would read something else with him in it. At first the book has no crimes in it and everyone is just sort of going about their business, but then... 

One of my only criticisms was the way that sometimes Jane's housing estate and its inhabitants were portrayed, as well as how Tenille was portrayed. I will say that this book is over fifteen years old and I think that shows in some of these outdated stereotypes. I feel like if McDermid was writing this book now, these perceptions wouldn't be present or would be portrayed differently. I hope so, anyway. 

All in all I really liked this and am glad I read it. I'm giving it five out of five. 

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