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Sphere, 17 May 2018. ISBN: 978-0-7515-6757-1 (PB)
Reading one of Stephen Booth's Cooper and Fry novels is like enjoying a
walk through the glorious Peak District landscape, then – shock! horror! –
coming across a dead body.
In Dead in the Dark,
the seventeenth in this highly readable series, the body, or one of them,
appears in the opening pages, though at that stage it's not quite dead. There's
another, later, and possibly a third, so no harm is done to Booth's reputation
for exposing the Peak District's dark heart as well as its bleak splendour.
For anyone who has grown
familiar with the characters, there's plenty to enjoy aside from descriptions
of those brooding moors and sheep-strewn hillsides. Ben Cooper is settling into
his role as detective inspector in the fictional town of Edendale and is even
casting an eye over the opposite sex again after the tragedy which felled him a
few books ago. Diane Fry, still a detective sergeant but tackling bigger issues
than Ben at the East Midlands' major crime unit in Nottingham, is faced with a
murder alongside a wider ongoing enquiry. Old-style copper Gavin Murfin is now
semi-retired, and a civilian support worker. DC Carol Villiers is getting
twitchy as promotion seems to elude her. And Fry's sister Angie still hovers
around her despite the dubious welcome she receives.
Booth clearly keeps his
research up to date. The way policing works is constantly changing, and
Edendale has moved with the times. Detective Superintendent Hazel Branagh, Ben
Cooper's boss and a key figure in this book, has moved to Chesterfield, and
Ben's team is little more than a skeleton. Which makes things tricky when DS
Branagh asks him to prioritize a missing person over a series of armed robberies,
for reasons which are clearly personal. And when it turns out that there's some
crossover between the Edendale caseload and Fry's murder over in Shirebrook,
Ben seems to be working flat out despite overtime restrictions.
As ever, Stephen Booth weaves
all these elements into a seamless storyline set against that wonderful
landscape – and even that has a powerful role to play in the investigation.
What's more, newcomers to the series needn't be concerned about picking up the
threads, despite the ongoing characters' strong backstory; although knowing
what's gone before enriches the story, it doesn't get in the way of a taut,
cohesive plot, and the characters still come across as rounded people.
I've been a fan of this
series from the beginning, and it seems to grow richer and more complex with
each volume – though in the highly readable, page turning way than comes from
the pen of an author with both experience and a huge talent with words.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
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, andone 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 Thingand 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
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.