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The Grave Tattoo Hardcover – February 6, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—During an English summer of record-breaking rains, a peat bog in the Lake District opens to reveal a 200-year-old body bearing South Pacific island tattoos. The area, home to Romantic poets, is where Jane Gresham, Wordsworth scholar, grew up, and she finds her interest piqued by the news. She has long believed that Fletcher Christian, HMS Bounty mutineer, didn't die on Pitcairn Island but returned to England. She has theorized that Christian recounted his adventures to his old schoolmate Wordsworth, who wrote them down, and those documents and a related poem, now worth millions, lay forgotten in a local home. In the race to retrieve the valuable manuscripts, Jane finds herself competing against sinister forces that would stop at nothing, including murder, to reach them first. The suspenseful story and its subplots, which include Jane's friendship with 13-year-old poetry-loving Tenille, who lives in Jane's London public housing project, create an absorbing thriller. McDermid establishes a strong sense of place in the atmospheric and pastoral Lake District that contrasts sharply with the sprawling housing project. Historical and literary references to Wordsworth's life and work and to the South Pacific adventures of the Bounty mutineers all help to make this novel come alive. Teens will enjoy the lively characters, brisk pace, and careful unraveling of the centuries-old mystery with its satisfactory conclusion.—Susanne Bardelson, Kitsap Regional Library, WA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (February 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312339216
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312339210
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,219,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

The story is well-paced with enough character development and interesting details to keep you reading.
J. E. Van Doren
I almost put this book back on the shelf when I realized it wasn't part of the 'Tony Hill' series, but the teaser on the bookjacket convinced me to give it a try.
Brian J. Oneill
The plot has a good premise, but I felt the author just plain rambled too much, dragging the story out when it needn't be.
Brenda Pink

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Linda Pagliuco VINE VOICE on February 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Val McDermid is an excellent writer, one of my favorites in the gritty mystery genre, so I did not hesitate to pick up The Grave Tattoo. This new offering is also a kind of detective story, with some truly nasty goings-on but involves more painstaking scholastic research than typical sleuthing. It reminds me of the line in "DaVinci Code" where Robert's reaction to being chased is "I need a library", one of my favorite quotes. In Tattoo, McDermid deftly combines history, forensics, suspense, literature, and danger into another compelling, atmospheric murder mystery. Both male and female characters are skillfully drawn in 3 dimensions, and the plot with its tantalizing backstory inexorably draws the reader in and won't let go. Definitely not a cosy or a romance, Tattoo should appeal to readers who enjoy a bit of intellectual exercise embedded within their entertainment.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A bizarrely tattooed body is discovered in the UK Lake District. There are persistent rumours that Fletcher Christian secretly returned from his exile to Pitcairn Island and was harboured by William Wordsworth, a childhood friend, who turned his tale into an epic poem. Because the manuscript has remained hidden, there is no conclusive proof of its existence. Can the body be that of Fletcher Christian? Is the manuscript still extant? Who holds the key to the past? Wordsworth Scholar Jane Gresham would love to find the manuscript, as would many others and not all are as scrupulous.

Peopled with interesting characters, the research through the past in combination with some fast action in the present provides the potential ingredients for a good mystery. This book involves a number of different subplots, some of which are more satisfying than others. Overall, the total package worked well for me, and I enjoyed the read.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Robbie De Clercq on December 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is one of Val McDermid's best books. A great mix between history (Mutiny on the Bounty),poetry (William Wordsworth), mystery (multiple murders) and action.

Jane Gresham, a specialist in the works of William Wordworth, is intriguid when a 200-year old body is found. She is sure that this is the body of Fletcher Christian, the person who started the mutiny on the Bounty. Furthermore, she is convinced that the only reason why Fletcher returned to England was to meet William Wordsworth, a friend of his family, and to tell him the real story about the mutiny on the Bounty.

The search for the lost manuscript, which is worth a fortune, can begin.

Because this is not just a detective story, a lot of people who have never heard of Val McDermid, will probably also want to read this book. It has everything to become a bestseller. A must-read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Why does the Bounty story fascinate us so? (Please don't say it's the sight of Mel Gibson in tight trousers and a pigtail.) From three movie versions to the celebrated Nordhoff and Hall trilogy, from contemporary 18th-century accounts to recent historiography, the tale of mutiny, survival and exile has been told and retold. In part I think it's the age-old drama of rebellion against tyranny: heroic Fletcher Christian confronting evil Captain Bligh, setting his former commander afloat in an open boat to make his way back to England, then leading the crew to a refuge on the obscure shores of Pitcairn Island. Modern interpretations, however, have corrected the romantic might versus right version with an awareness of class difference and historical context --- portraying Bligh not as a sadist but as a brilliant navigator whose leadership style was no more authoritarian than any other captain in Her Majesty's Navy at the time.

In THE GRAVE TATTOO we get yet another angle, albeit purely speculative, on the Bounty. Val McDermid, best known for her gritty, urban psychological thrillers, heads this time into historical/literary-mystery territory, playing with the hypothesis that Christian, who is understood to have been murdered a few years after reaching Pitcairn, didn't die. Instead, he escaped back to England, where he contacted the poet William Wordsworth (with whom he had gone to school) and told him the true story of the mutiny and its aftermath --- which became the basis for a lost epic poem.

McDermid's protagonist is young, pretty Wordsworth specialist Jane Gresham. When a reasonably intact body with tattoos from the South Sea Islands is found in a bog in the Lake Country, Jane realizes that it could be Fletcher Christian.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bett Norris on March 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I've read many of McDermid's books. I must admit I bought this one simply because it involves the infamous mutiny on the Bounty, and Wordsworth. I have long been intrigued by both, though Wordsworth perhaps isn't as popular as he once was. And if any writer could somehow combine these two elements, it is Val McDermid.

Let's see: there's a post doctoral Wordsworth scholar, a smart thirteen-year-old, a centuries-old body in a bog in the Lake District which may or may not be Fletcher Christian, a lost manuscript that may or may not exist, a few murders sprinkled in throughout, and everyone in the story seems motivated by self interest. When reading this novel, trust no one's motives.
Jane works two jobs while trying to turn her doctoral thesis into a book; she lives in council housing, amongst the poor, the criminals and the criminally negligent of the East End, and is lonesome and nostalgic about her home in the Lake District. She is befriended by a rough young girl named Tenille, who hates school but loves poetry. McDermid has created a wonderful character in this tough, wise, scared and scary girl.
McDermid in fact has done a great thing with all the characters in this tale, and with the plot, twisted, tangled, slow to get started and sometimes racing along, and with scene and mood. No one writes about urban grit and grime like McDermid, but she does an equally expert job of the countryside to which all major characters retire to then become involved in a race to discover: is there a lost epic poem based on Christian's adventures? Did he in fact manage to return to England and live, and if so, was he then dispatched in a peat bog, and if so, why?
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