by Bruce TierneyFebruary, 2007
A lively literary mystery
Prolific Scottish author Val McDermid serves up a clever and satisfying what-if? suspense novel, The Grave Tattoo, featuring Jane Gresham, a modern-day literary scholar investigating the storied relationship between author William Wordsworth and renowned mutineer Fletcher Christian. For years, rumors have circulated questioning Christian's supposed death on Pitcairn Island; many believed that Christian made his way back to England, living out his life incognito in the Lake District. McDermid hypothesizes a post-Bounty meeting between Christian and Wordsworth, in which the disgraced sailor offered up his side of the story, a tale later written down by Wordsworth, then lost to history. Fortune, fame, scholarly credibility (and probably a lucrative book deal, not to mention a footnote in one of history's most enduring legends) are at stake for whomever unearths the purported manuscript, and it quickly becomes evident that the academic community is not above a bit of a bit of selective backstabbing, even literally, if the potential payoff is sufficient. McDermid cuts deftly back and forth between Wordsworth's day and modern times, the suspense building with each shift of scene. Add in a career criminal with a vicious temper, a nubile mixed-race teen of dubious parentage, an ex-boyfriend who is a rather nasty piece of work, and a ruthless antiquities dealer, and you have the recipe for a fine suspense novel indeed!