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Tuesday 9 August 2016

‘Secrets of Death’ by Stephen Booth

Published by Sphere,
16th June 2016.
Kindle Edtion

I’ve followed the progress of Stephen Booth’s Peak District detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry ever since they were both callow young DCs with widely different personalities and approaches to the job. Cooper is a Derbyshire lad born and bred, raised on a farm and very much a part of country life; Fry is a Brummie lass, a townie to her fingertips, with little time or patience for the people skills Cooper sees as part of the package.

In Secrets of Death, Ben Cooper is a recently-promoted detective inspector, now in charge of the team he was part of not long ago. He is still damaged by the tragic death of his fiancée four books ago, but is starting to move on. Diane Fry, having been promoted to detective sergeant several books before Cooper, is still stuck on that rank, but working in the city in a major crime unit, which suits her far better than the rural life.

There are plenty of familiar faces, especially on Cooper’s territory: young DCs Becky Hurst and Luke Irvine, experienced hand DC Carol Villiers, pathologist Dr Doon, surprisingly perceptive Superintendent Hazel Branagh. Even stolid old-style cop Gavin Murfin reappears, despite having retired a couple of books ago. And of course the glorious Peak District landscape, with surprisingly few adjustments for the sake of fiction, plays a huge part, and made me get my map book out more than once. The teeth-clenching climax (one of Booth’s greatest strengths after character and landscape) takes place on the Monsal Viaduct, one of the most picturesque places in the county.

Diane Fry’s abrasive approach invades the peace of Edendale in the course of an investigation, on her side into the murders of three young women working in the sex trade, on Cooper’s into a series of suicides in Derbyshire beauty spots, which the press are threatening to label an epidemic. The plot delves into interesting and controversial territory: the reasons behind suicide, and the ethics behind the ‘assisted’ kind – on which subject, of course, the reader is left to make up his or her own mind. And of course there’s a lot more to it, and both Cooper and Fry bring their very different skills to the table to ensure justice is done: following his highly intuitive and often accurate gut feelings on his side, strict adherence to evidence and procedure on hers.

For fans of Stephen Booth’s long-running series, Secrets of Death is another winner. For anyone new to Cooper and Fry, there’s enough background to whet the appetite for more, and a rattling good mystery into the bargain.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Stephen Booth was born in the English Pennine mill town of Burnley. He was brought up on the Lancashire coast at Blackpool, where he attended Arnold School. He began his career in journalism by editing his school magazine, and wrote his first novel at the age of 12. After graduating from City of Birmingham Polytechnic (now  Birmingham University), Stephen moved to Manchester to train as a teacher, but escaped from the profession after a terrifying spell as a trainee teacher in a big city comprehensive school.  Starting work on his first newspaper in Wilmslow, Cheshire, in 1974, Stephen was a specialist rugby union reporter, as well as working night shifts as a sub-editor on the Daily Express and The Guardian. This was followed by periods with local newspapers in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. He was at various times Production Editor of the Farming Guardian magazine, Regional Secretary of the British Guild of Editors, and one of the UK's first qualified assessors for the NVQ in Production Journalism.  Freelance work began with rugby reports for national newspapers and local radio stations. Stephen has also had articles and photographs published in a wide range of specialist magazines, from Scottish Memories to Countrylovers Magazine, from Cat World to Canal and Riverboat, and one short story broadcast on BBC radio. In 1999, his writing career changed direction when, in rapid succession, he was shortlisted for the Dundee Bool Prize and the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger competition for new writers, then won the £5,000 Lichfield Prize for his unpublished novel The Only Dead Thing, and signed a two-book contract with HarperCollins for a series of crime novels.  In 2000, Stephen's first published novel, Black Dog, marked the arrival in print of his best known creations - two young Derbyshire police detectives, DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry. Black Dog was the named by the London Evening Standard as one of the six best crime novels of the year - the only book on their list written by a British author. In the USA, it won the Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel and was nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Mystery. The second Cooper & Fry novel, Dancing with the Virgins, was shortlisted for the UK's top crime writing award, the Gold Dagger, and went on to win Stephen a Barry Award for the second year running.  The publication of Blind to the Bones that year resulted in Stephen winning the Crime Writers' Association's 'Dagger in the Library' Award, presented to the author whose books have given readers most pleasure. All the books are set in England's beautiful and atmospheric Peak District.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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