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The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid

The Grave Tattoo (2006)

by Val McDermid

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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Val McDermid spins a gripping yarn involving lots of threads. Enjoyable. ( )
  sianpr | Apr 14, 2017 |
This one really didn't grab me. The search for a lost manuscript didn't keep my attention and the murders seemed very background with little sense of threat. ( )
  kale.dyer | Jul 1, 2016 |
I have long been a fan of psychological crime thrillers, but for whatever reason, The Grave Tattoo is my first experience with a Val McDermid title. Now having read it, I can certainly see why critics of the day considered it to be McDermid's breakthrough effort, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

This intricately plotted novel seems to have something for every kind of mystery fan. Its core plot involves the 200-year-old body pulled out of a Lake District peat bog that a forensic scientist has cleverly nicknamed “Pirate Peat” because of the intricate tattoos still visible on the body. Interesting as the body already is, there is a strong possibility that it could turn out to be an even more important find than it appears to be at first glance. Local lore says that Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian somehow survived the aftermath of that famous incident, made his way back to his home area, and disappeared there for good. Could this be the famous sailor’s body?

Wordsworth scholar Jane Gresham, who grew up near where the bog body was found, believes there is more to the Fletcher Christian story. Her research indicates a strong possibility that Christian told his story to William Wordsworth, an old classmate of his, before he disappeared. She believes it likely that Wordsworth wrote down what he was told by Christian before producing a long lost poem about his old friend's adventures. Jane knows how successfully the Wordsworth family guarded its privacy and reputation, so it makes sense to her that the poem and notes would have been hidden away rather than being made public during the author's lifetime. But they are out there somewhere, she thinks, and if it can be proved that Pirate Peat is really Fletcher Christian, it will prove that she is on the right track.

Intriguing as this story line is, it is easy for readers to lose themselves in McDermid's side plots involving Jane's friends and family. The most intriguing thread involves the thirteen-year-old mixed race girl whom Jane has befriended in the infamous London housing project she is forced to live in – being a Wordsworth scholar and college lecturer does not seem to pay particularly well and London rents are high, after all. Tenille is a pet project of Jane's, a kid she is trying to save from the future that already seems destined to be hers.

Wordsworth's papers, if they exist and can be found, will be worth millions to the right collector, and as is always the case, some are willing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on something so precious. Jane’s life gets complicated when characters from all the side plots start showing up in the Lake District for reasons of their own. Suddenly nothing makes sense to Jane. If she is to find the documents she is so certain exist, she will need lots of help – but whom can she trust? Her brother seems to be in a race to find the papers before she does; the police are accusing her of hiding a murder suspect; and people are dying all around her. ( )
  SamSattler | Mar 18, 2016 |
This is a very engaging and well crafted mystery. It is reminiscent of the Inspector Rutledge mysteries of Charles Todd. ( )
  grandpahobo | Sep 24, 2015 |
In The Grave Tattoo, Val McDermid gives us three heroines. The first is Jane Gresham, a Wordsworth scholar with an idea that there's an undiscovered manuscript poem tied in with Fletcher Christian of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. The second is Tenille Cole, 13 years old, mixed race, smart, poetry loving, with Jane her only real friend. The third is River Wilde, a forensic anthropologist who will be examining a body found in a peat bog -- one that might be Christian himself if old local rumors about his survival are true.

Two of the three are going to find themselves suspected of murders they didn't commit, but their actions make them seem guilty. The third will discover crucial evidence.

Throw in misunderstood motives, coincidence, a father one should avoid crossing at all costs, an ex whose a real jerk, a murder attempt on one of the heroines, and a harrowing climax for a really good mix. There were times I wanted to reach into the CDs and shake those coppers, yelling that they've got the wrong end of the stick.

There are also chapter openings about Fletcher Christian that were interesting in their own right.

If you dislike multiple viewpoints, this book has them. I enjoyed that. My favorite suspect didn't do it. At least I'm not a police officer, so I didn't hassle an innocent person. Ms. Reading's narration was fine. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but not every character deserves one.


When one character greets Inspector R at the door with, Ah, an inspector calls, I think she's making a slight joke because An Inspector Calls is the title of a J. B. Priestly play. It's a modern classic. I've listened to an audio version and it was very thought provoking as well as very good. Its message should have been heeded by some of the characters.

A British abbreviation that might not be familiar to American readers is 'mod. cons.'. It's short for 'modern conveniences'. ( )
  JalenV | Jun 27, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Val McDermidprimary authorall editionscalculated
Grlic, OlgaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reading, KateNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, LauraProducersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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O Reader! Had you in your mind such stores as silent thougth can bring, O gentle Reader! you would find a tale in every thing - William Wordsworth - Simon Lee
For Kelly - my blossom of snow
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All landscapes hold their own secrets.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312339216, Hardcover)

In a novel reminiscent of The Rule of FourThe 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:38 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The discovery of strangely tattooed body in a bog gives rise to rumors regarding William Wordsworth's ties to the infamous Fletcher Christian, as Wordsworth specialist Jane Gresham searches for a manuscript that could hold the key to the historical mystery.… (more)

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