In a novel reminiscent of The Rule of Four, The Dante Club and The Historian, suspense master McDermid spins a psychological thriller in which a present-day murder has its roots in the eighteenth century and the mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty. After torrential summer rains uncover a bizarrely tattooed body on a Lake District hillside, long discarded old wives' tales takes on a chilling new plausibility. For centuries, Lakelanders have whispered that Fletcher Christian staged the massacre on Pitcairn so that he could return home. And there, he told his story to an old friend and schoolmate, William Wordsworth, who turned it into a long narrative poem--a poem that remained hidden lest it expose Wordsworth to the gallows for harboring a fugitive. Wordsworth specialist Jane Gresham, herself a native of the Lake District, feels compelled to discover once and for all whether the manuscript ever existed--and whether it still exists today. But as she pursues each new lead, death follows hard on her heels. Suddenly Jane is at the heart of a 200-year-old mystery that still has the power to put lives on the line. Against the dramatic backdrop of England's Lake District a drama of life and death plays out, its ultimate prize a bounty worth millions.
An intriguing, 200-year-old mystery propels this multilayered stand-alone from British author McDermid set in England's Lake District. Scholar Jane Gresham pursues her theory that HMS Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian returned secretly from exile to his homeland in the late 18th century. A shriveled body found in a bog seems to bear resemblance to this dashing hero, right down to the South Sea tattoos that blacken his buttocks. Jane searches relentlessly for a lost manuscript by the poet Wordsworth that relates Christian's tale in tantalizing excerpts between chapters. Various subplots complicate her quest, including a fraught friendship with precocious 13-year-old Tenille, a lonely, mixed-race girl who also loves Romantic poetry. With a feminist, socially conscious spin, McDermid (The Distant Echo) vividly contrasts marginal subsistence in London's dismal Marshpool neighborhood with the Lake District's bucolic lifestyle. Boasting blurbs from such notable authors as Harlan Coben, Tess Gerritsen and Joseph Finder, this could be McDermid's break-out book. 100,000 printing; author tour. (Feb.)
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June 06, 2007
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Excerpt from The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid
The way it rained that summer
It would have broken your heart to see.
It smashed its sheets to smithereens
And flowed down the corrugated roofs
Of dismal railway stations.
And I would sit waiting for trains,
Feet in puddles,
My head starry with rain,
Thinking of you miles from me
In Grecian sunlight
Where rain never falls.
Jane Gresham stared at what she had written then with an impatient stroke of her pen crossed it through so firmly the paper tore and split in the wake of the nib. Bloody Jake, she thought angrily. She was a grown-up, not some lovestruck adolescent. Sub-poetic maundering was something she should have left behind years ago. She'd had insight enough to know she was never going to be a poet by the time she'd finished her first degree. Studying other people's poetry was what she was good at; interpreting their work, exploring thematic links in their verse and opening up their complexity to those who were, she hoped, an assorted number of steps behind her in the process. 'Bloody, bloody Jake,' she said out loud, crumpling the paper savagely and tossing it in the bin. He wasn't worth the expense of her intellectual energy. Nor the familiar claw of pain that grabbed at her chest at the thought of him.
Eager to shunt aside thoughts of Jake, Jane turned to the stack of CDs beside the desk in the poky room that the council classified as a bedroom but which she called, with knowing pretentiousness, her study. She scanned the titles, deliberately starting at the bottom, looking for something that held no resonance of her . . . what was he? Her ex? Her erstwhile lover? Her lover-in-abeyance? Who knew? She certainly didn't. And she doubted very much whether he gave her a second thought from one week to the next. Muttering at herself under her breath, she pulled out Nick Cave's Murder Ballads and slotted it into the CD drive of her computer. The dark growl of his voice matched her mood so perfectly, it became a paradoxical antidote. In spite of herself, Jane found she was almost smiling.
She picked up the book she had been attempting to study before Jake Hartnell had intruded on her thoughts. But it took her only a few minutes to realise how far her focus had drifted. Irritated with herself again, she slammed it shut. Wordsworth's letters of 1807 would have to wait.
Before she could decide what to attack next, the alarm on her mobile phone beeped. Jane frowned, checking the time on her phone against the watch on her wrist. 'Hell and damnation,' she said. How could it be half past eleven already? Where had the morning gone?
'Bloody Jake,' she said again, jumping to her feet and switching off her computer. All that time wasted mooning over him when there were better things to be passionate about. She grabbed her bag and went through to the other room. Officially this was the living room, but Jane used it as a bedsit, preferring to have a completely separate space to work in. It made the rest of her life even more cramped by comparison, but that felt like a small price to pay for the luxury of having somewhere she could lay out her books and papers without having to shift them every time she wanted to eat or sleep.
The small room could barely accommodate even her Spartan existence. Her sofa bed, although folded away now, dominated the space. A table sat against the opposite wall, three wooden chairs tucked under it.