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The Grave Tattoo

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  4,139 ratings  ·  432 reviews

From bestselling author Val McDermid comes a modern thriller about an ancient murder set on the high seas…

After summer rains uncover a corpse bearing tattoos like those of eighteenth-century seafarers, many residents of the English Lake District can’t help but wonder whether it’s the body of one of the town’s most legendary fugitives.

Scholar and native Lakelander Jane Gres

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by Minotaur Books (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.65  · 
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 ·  4,139 ratings  ·  432 reviews

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Aug 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
‘Goodbye, Dr Gresham. I don’t expect we’ll meet again,’ he said. He sounded so much like a Bond villain that the spell broke. Jane grinned. ‘You never know,’ she said.

Apparently, I'm on a Val McDermid mission at the moment. So, when I found out (by a quick word search on kindle) that The Grave Tattoo did not have as many ties to graves/graveyards as I would have liked to satisfy a certain bingo square, there was no reason to hold back any longer on this murder mystery combining The Mutiny on th
Mar 16, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
This is probably the weakest Val McDermid book that I've read, save for her more deliberately pulpy novels about plucky journalists and private investigators flouting the law to get results (heck, I'd probably read Kate Brannigan again in a second). Admittedly I can't work up the amount of apathy for this as I did for Beneath The Bleeding, the book where she thought her team of serial killer investigators should horn in on a terrorism investigation - a knee jerk reaction to the 7/7 bombings.
Lyn Elliott
Jun 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
We're in England's Lake District now and reading a bit of light fiction set in the region. It does make a difference when you know what the scenery and villages actually look like - sharpens the imagery, I think.

I'm not a regular reader of McDermid, but know that she's recognized as a skillful mystery writer.

Here she has bitten off some pretty big chunks - missing Wordsworth letters and possibly a poem that might tell the story of mutineer Fletcher Christian who came from the same part of the w
Stephen Clynes
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In September 2005, heavy rain is sweeping Britain and in the Lake District a body is revealed as the land moves on the ancient peat hags. This body in the bog is of great interest to Jane Gresham, a scholar of the local Lakeland poet, William Wordsworth. This novel reveals the mystery of what has been hidden for 200 years.

This novel is a lovely mix of things brought together to make a remarkable book. There is history, local folklore, poetry, mystery, police procedure and social commentary. What
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
University professor and scholar Jane Gresham goes to the Lake District to explore a rumored Wordsworth manuscript containing a poem which may be worth millions. The visit was prompted by the discovery of a bog body in the area. Her own family resides in the area. The first member of the family which may hold the manuscript turns up dead before she visits. As she visits others, the death toll mounts. Both a young woman Jane shelters and Jane herself become suspects.

I found the book quite boring.
May 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If I were cynical (Cynical? Moi?) I might be tempted to say that The Grave Tattoo was Val McDermid writing a pastiche of Reginald Hill parodying The Da Vinci Code.

But that wouldn't be entirely fair. It's true that it's set in Hill's beloved Lake District, like his The Stranger House published a year or so earlier. It's also true that the plot revolves around an academic's search to uncover the secret of a historical conspiracy held in trust by a hapless Lakeland family before she is beaten to i
Take mystery and history and give a good stir and a wonderful old fashion yarn pops out. That is how I would describe The Grave Tattoo. Even when the history is only partially based on fact, it is a well known enough story that most would recognize the bones of it and its possible importance to the unveiling of even new facets of this past that makes it so much fun. It can be delicious to think that the past has more to tell us.
This story begins with a body found in a bog in the Lake District of
David Highton
Sep 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A literary mystery as a lost Wordsworth letter and a very old body are found in the Lake District, with a second plot based on a murder on an East London sink estate. This book was perhaps longer than it needed to be, but the narrative did keep flowing in typical McDermid fashion.
Mar 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: united-kingdom, crime
THE GRAVE TATTOO is a standalone book from the prolific and well-known author of, amongst many others, The Wire In The Blood series.

When a tattooed, 200-year-old body is uncovered in the peat bogs of the Lake District, local girl turned Wordsworth Scholar Jane Gresham is instantly reminded of a local legend about Fletcher Christian, the man who led the mutiny on the Bounty, said to have returned surreptitiously to England from Pitcairn Island. Returning to her childhood home she is on the trail
Jacob Chinchen
Feb 05, 2017 rated it liked it
The amount of time it took me to read this book is ridiculous. Aside from the 11 days or so that are listed here, I've tried on-and-off to read this book for several years. In fact, I only read it now because I have a patented "reach onto the second row of a shelf and pull out whatever book you touch" technique for my unread book shelf. And when I pulled this one out I audibly groaned because I didn't look forward to it at all.

There are something like 550 pages in this book. On approximately 500
Michael Smith
Nov 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
This latest from one of the most highly regarded present-day British mystery writers may be her best, though it’s rather different from her previous work. Jane Gresham, native of a small village in the Lake District, is an impoverished graduate scholar specializing in William Wordsworth, a local boy. She’s forced by financial circumstances to live in a rather horrible council flat, where she has become a sort of mentor to Tenille, a very bright thirteen-year-old girl of mixed race who has manage ...more
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first Val McDermid novel, and it won't be the last - it was a good read. The premise involves a story that I've always liked: Fletcher Christian and the mutiny on the Bounty. Jane Gresham is a postdoc who is an expert on William Wordsworth, and she grew up in the Lake District where Wordsworth lived and wrote. She's now living in London and doing research at the University. Back in Cumbria, the extremely heavy summer rains have unearthed the mummified body of a tattooed sailor in a p ...more
Feb 13, 2015 rated it liked it
For the love of all the gods of books, authors PLEASE STOP (view spoiler) And yes, this is a big spoiler. You have been warned. ...more
Clarissa Draper
Jun 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: val-mcdermid
Genre: Mystery Thriller
How I read it: I own it.

What attracted me to the book: I love reading all Val McDermid books. She's one of my favorite authors.

Who should read this book: Mystery lovers, Val McDermid lovers, history lovers, breathers of air. Note of caution: there are some disturbing scenes and some foul language in this book. Almost all Val's books are this way - if you've read any, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Summary (from amazon): An intriguing, 200-year-old mystery propels this
Paul Weiss
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I think I'm going to re-read "Mutiny on the Bounty"!

A 200 year old preserved peat body discovered in England's Lake District is covered with South Sea Tattoos of the sort that 18th century British seamen acquired during their travels throughout the far reaches of the British Empire. Wordsworth scholar Jane Gresham, convinced that this body is actually Fletcher Christian, long thought to have died on Pitcairn Island, also believes that Wordsworth composed a final epic poem about Christian and the
Oct 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
Here's the thing: I read McDermid's A Place of Execution and thought it was an astoundingly brilliant mystery. I then devoured a few more of her non-series novels ... A Distant Echo was pretty good-ish. Anything else I read failed to make much of an impression. So when I saw this one at the library a few days ago, I knew I probably woudn't love it, but I wanted something not-too-weighty to get me through the weekend. Mission accomplished. This tale of murder in the Lake District isn't the tour d ...more
Six months ago, I took this book to a Mexican Resort and tried valiantly to read it. Margaritas and sunshine got in the way. This is not a pool side resort book because it takes a bit of concentration.

A cold winter day and a couple of sleepy cats, however, proved the right formula for finishing this book. I felt it striving for the feel and style of Possession--academic scholars, romance, a mystery text. In this respect I think McDermid did a good job. It's the murder mystery that is intertwine
Jim Bowen
I don't know how many people know about Fletcher Cristian and the mutiny on the Bounty, but I'm inclined to argue that it's famous enough in England to make Blyth the fifth or sixth most famous naval captain in English history (behind Scott, Cook, Wellington, Shackleton and Nelson).

In this book, McDermid introduces a new central character, Jane Gresham. Gresham is a Wordsworth scholar who believes that Fletcher Christian made it back to the UK after the mutiny and told his friend William Wordswo
Feb 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
This wasn't a conventional mystery at all for the first 90 percent of the book. It's all about William Wordsworth and the Mutiny on the Bounty. Then, in the last ten percent of the book, the murder victims start dropping like flies, and I had no idea who the murderer was (maybe because it wasn't a very plausible solution). The main character is obsessed with finding a manuscript for the whole book, but then when she finds out where it is, she's too tired to go get it, even thought she knows some ...more
Louise Mitchell
Jul 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
Sounded good really wasn't that great. Read it until the end (do not really know how). Was one of these books that was stilted and did not really go with the flow. Felt rushed in places. The end bit was the best with a twist.
Jan 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I have read recently and very well written, I will now have no qualms at reading any of the books by this author.
Nancy H
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an intriguing British mystery that involves a hundreds of years-old corpse found in a peat bog, a wonderful main character named Jane who is just right, her lovely country family, an adult brother who fights with her every time they meet, broken hearts, a sleazy ex-boyfriend, a conniving con woman, a moody teenage who is lovable in spite of herself, her Mafia-type father, four more murders of innocent people, and an old manuscript that has been missing for more than a hundred years. All ...more
Debby Hallett
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Another four star read from Val McDermid. The only crit I have is that interweaving an historical narrative with a (relatively) modern story felt stilted and effortful to me. Other than that, loved it.
Carol Turner
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
McDermid's signature tight plotting, entwining storylines, and well-written characters once again kept me turning pages well into the night.
Tracey Ellis
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
I wanted to read a book set in the Lake District where I was visiting for a few days, and with mostly murder-mysteries to choose from I went with The Grave Tattoo as it had a bit of historical, literary significance to it. That, however, was the most interesting thing about it, the history of Wordsworth, Fletcher Christian, and Mutiny on the Bounty, I virtually skim-read the rest just to get to the end. If you like basic books with a simple plot and lots of dialogue, this one’s for you. Not for ...more
Hannah Fenner
May 01, 2020 rated it liked it
The last half of the book was great at building suspense but felt like it took a long time to get there.
I also feel that it ended a bit abruptly, I was still wondering why happened to some of the characters.
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alice Fitzpatrick
Jun 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
I don't have the problems with this book that a lot of other reviewers seem to have. I fully bought into the plot-lines and even the Christian Fletcher journal excerpts all the away until the revelation of the murderer. I just didn't see it coming, and not in a good way.

What was missing for me was a hint, some foreshadowing of both the potential for this character to commit murder and a motive. It reminds me of the frustration I often feel when reading Agatha Christie, where Miss Marple suddenl
Suzanne Fox
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Anticipated this one eagerly thanks to its combination of a really skilled suspense writer and a concept linking present to historic past, but found the book neither an absorbing literary mystery a la Lynn Shepherd nor a suspenseful thriller a la McDermid herself.

The weak link is protagonist Jane Gresham, whose character seems shaped largely by plot convenience: she has to be an academic for the literary aspect of the story, a native of the Lake District to give her some resources in the locale
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Val McDermid is a No. 1 bestseller whose novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies.

She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cart

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