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Stone Bruises by Simon Beckett

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Having read Beckett’s David Hunter thrillers I was only too keen to get stuck into his latest story, Stone Bruises. The Hunter series is a gripping account of the life and work of a forensic anthropologist as he is drawn into the grim and disturbing world of the murder scene and all its ramifications. Beckett handles the suspense in these novels with ice cold calculation, luring the reader into an uneasy curiosity about the cruelty of premeditated murder, the investigative detail of human remains and the clues they leave behind.

In Stone Bruises, Beckett makes a literary move that shifts the emphasis away from the inimitable Dr David Hunter to a quite different character, but you don’t feel a jolt or a huge leap into an entirely different world or imaginative space. His characterisation and environmental descriptions have a familiar tone and situational placing as his previous novels. However, as a first read of one of Beckett’s books, it would serve as an enticing and rewarding lead into his other work.

Sean is a much younger personality featuring as the main focus of the story. He is on the run. As a result of a sequence of events that leave him wounded and unconscious, he falls under the care of two sisters, who nurse him back to recovery. The blistering French sunshine and remote scene of his temporary and unplanned retreat add tension and suspense to the unfolding relationships he forms with Arnaud, the volatile owner of the farm, and his daughters. Beckett fuels the reader’s appetite for the secrets that are revealed by teasing out the prequel to Sean’s current circumstances. This strategy is well placed and carries the narrative successfully, as the oppressive relationships in earlier times in Sean’s life are juxtaposed with the equally oppressive heat of the French summer and his discoveries.

There is a slow burn to this novel, but the reader will not be disappointed by the drama and intrigue of its characters, the simmering tension and beguiling plot. The resolution of the maelstrom of events around Sean’s experience provides relief and draws the story to a timely close. One suspects that if he appears again in a future work he might turn up at a scene with the main character of Beckett’s previous novels as a reluctant apprentice.

This is a well-honed book which has a less brutal and macabre descriptive narrative. It hints that Beckett is attempting to revise some aspects of his storytelling as there is more of a focus on psychological intrigue and dynamics. This is an enjoyable and well written book by a Sheffield author worthy of your time and attention, especially if you want your nerves jangling and imagination teased.

Words: Simon Bell.
Cover image courtesy of Bantam.

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