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Sunday, 12 November 2017

‘Dead in the Dark by Stephen Booth

Published by Sphere,
July 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-6759-5 (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
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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