Book reviews: Dead in the Dark by Stephen Booth

Dead in the Dark by Stephen Booth
Dead in the Dark by Stephen Booth
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The majestic beauty of the Peak District looms large again in the seventeenth book of master crime writer Stephen Booth’s dark and atmospheric series starring detective team Cooper and Fry.

These two very different but intriguing police officers, whose hard-hitting murder mysteries have become cult reading for an army of fans, have turned Burnley-born Booth into an award-winning author.

Now living in Nottingham, former journalist Booth’s edgy novels have put the raw beauty of the Peak District firmly on the map with their remarkable evocation of both the awe-inspiring landscape and the remote towns and communities that dot this corner of northern England.

At the heart of the series – now in development as a TV drama – are the resourceful and diligent DI Ben Cooper, his relationship with his abrasive former sidekick DS Diane Fry, and an eclectic police team that is superbly imagined and perfectly fleshed out.

In Dead in the Dark, Booth whisks us away to spectacular Lathkill Dale in the more southerly White Peak – an area noted for its steep limestone slopes, flood-prone caves and the remnants of once profitable lead mines – for a baffling, two-pronged case that explores contemporary social issues like rural poverty and the impact of immigration on close-knit communities.

Ten years ago, Reece Bower from Bakewell was accused of killing his wife Annette, a crime he always denied. Annette disappeared while she was out walking the dog but despite extensive police searches in the area, no trace was ever found of her remains.

With the difficulty of proving a murder without a body, and the intervention of a witness – Annette’s own father – who claimed he had seen her some days after she disappeared, the case against Bower collapsed and he was freed.

But now memories of the original investigation have been resurrected for Detective Inspector Ben Cooper because Bower, who has since had a child with his new partner, has also mysteriously vanished.

Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Diane Fry, now working for the Major Crime Unit, has been called to the murder of Polish immigrant, Krystian Zalewski, who was found stabbed to death in his rundown flat in Shirebrook.

As Fry is forced to meet head-on the racial tensions that are bubbling to the surface in a town that feels it has too many immigrants, Cooper’s search moves into the caves and abandoned mines in the isolated depths of Lathkill Dale.

The disappearance of both Reece and Annette Bower cannot be separated and this is an opportunity for Cooper to finally solve the ten-year-old case… but first he must discover who would want revenge for Annette’s death?

Dead in the Dark, an intelligent and thought-provoking story packed with authentic police procedural and impressive detective work, fields a fascinating cast of characters, each carefully crafted and each reflecting political and social issues relevant to many parts of the country today.

As always, the star of the show is the rugged Peak District with its dramatic ridges and limestone valleys, but Booth digs below the famous landscape to unearth the darker tones of the county’s industrial history and the racial tensions that simmer in troubled towns like Shirebrook, once home to a thriving colliery but now part of an urban conurbation which has seen the arrival of large numbers of workers from Eastern Europe.

Clever, beautifully written and superbly plotted, this is an entertaining page-turner with a compelling twist in the tail…

(Sphere, hardback, £18.99)