Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Great Tattoo by Val McDermid

I've been reading Val McDermid for years and almost always enjoy her work. This is no exception.

The book has a fascinating construct, based around the fact that Fletcher Christian, the lead mutineer on the Bounty, was acquainted with William Wordsworth, famous English poet. McDermid takes this fact and posits a hidden manuscript that Wordsworth wrote telling Christian's side of the tale. The lead character, Jane Gresham, is a Wordsworth scholar who picks up hints of this manuscript while digging through Wordsworth family correspondence and sets out to investigate. Meanwhile a "bog body" is discovered in the area, preserved by peat and bearing tattoos from the South Seas. Could "Pirate Peat" by the man himself?

None of which adds up to a murder mystery until ruthless collectors get involved in the process and the locals connected with Gresham's investigation start ending up dead.

Along the way we get to know Jane, a low-level academic struggling to make ends meet by working a side job at the local pub and living in a squalid housing complex with its local variety of gangster. Jane's brother, a pompous, jealous headmaster at the local school. Janes' friends fellow academic Dan and his partner Howard who runs the bar where Jane works. We meet Jane's friend, Tenille, a young black woman with a love of poetry and a knack for avoiding school. Jane's parents, sheepherders in the Lakes District, a fascinating forensic scientist who is turning her investigation into Pirate Peat into a TV documentary and the local lawman.

Between chapters, we are granted short passages from the story of Fletcher Christian.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to others. I was kept guessing right until the killer was revealed, which is a real treat. I like being surprised.