four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
By: 
Val McDermid
user_rating: 
0

A-The Grave TattooAfter a particularly wet summer in England’s Lake District, a tattooed corpse two centuries old reveals itself. The body might be that of Fletcher Christian, exiled to Pitcairn Island after his role in the infamous mutiny against Captain Bligh on HMS Bounty. Local legend has it that Christian escaped the island and returned to his home, where he sought solace in the company of childhood friend and poet William Wordsworth. Wordsworth scholar Jane Gresham surmises that Wordsworth memorialized his friend in a lost poem that, if found, would be worth millions. But other less savory characters are on the trail of the prize as well—and, as a result, lives hang in the balance.
St. Martin’s Minotaur. 390 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0312339216

Baltimore Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"The Grave Tattoo may be [McDermid’s] best book yet because it takes her in uncharted directions—part historical mystery, part chase thriller, but most of all a fascinating juxtaposition of upper-middle-class academic mores and hard-bitten public-housing-project survival. … McDermid does an excellent job commenting on the corrosive qualities of greed and academic reputation and the plight of those, like Jane’s 13-year-old neighbor Tenille, who have the misfortune of growing up poor, black and uneducated even as they possess great talent." Sarah Weinman

Guardian 4 of 5 Stars
"Something of a departure for Manchester’s queen of the dark borders of crime, this cleverly plotted thriller has its origins in the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. … It should gain [McDermid] a crowd of new fans." Maxim Jakubowski

Mystery Reader 4 of 5 Stars
"Although all of Val McDermid’s books are a joy to read due to the talent of the writer, her standalone novels give her the freedom to truly display her ability to fashion unique characters as well as create and describe a setting so perfectly that the reader can actually envision the place and sense the atmosphere. … New readers will without doubt feel compelled to seek out her earlier works which are numerous." Andy Plonka

Observer 4 of 5 Stars
"[McDermid is] one of the world’s leading mystery writers, combining acuity of perception about the pathological mind with a rare talent for blindsiding the reader and graphic descriptive powers. … The Grave Tattoo is a great read; England’s heritage history has never been so chilling." Peter Guttridge

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This novel doesn’t meet the standards McDermid set for herself with previous novels like A Place of Execution, but she shows her extraordinary range as the story weaves between Wordsworth’s ‘notes,’ the rarified atmosphere of academia, and the gritty reality of underclass London." Hallie Ephron

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If you believe that every patch of ground comes with its own story, then Val McDermid is the storyteller for you. … Even without the melodramatic plot twists, the novel’s scholarship is exciting on its own terms, and entirely appropriate for a district so wildly beautiful that it attracts both poets and pirates." Marilyn Stasio

Critical Summary

Oxford graduate and erstwhile journalist Val McDermid, grand dame of the British psychological mystery (Peter Guttridge describes her as "Thomas Harris crossed with Agatha Christie") since the publication of Report for Murder two decades ago, has written a clever puzzle of a book that bridges history and mystery and demonstrates the author’s range. The Grave Tattoo combines scenery, story, and spot-on characters into one of her most engaging efforts yet. The author’s strength has always been her ability to evoke atmosphere, and the Lake District comes alive in all its unsettling beauty. Grave Tattoo is a solid entry for veterans—and a real treat for newcomers, who will enjoy discovering the four books in McDermid’s Tony Hill series (start with The Mermaids Singing) and three previous stand-alone novels.