The Murder Road | Stephen Booth | 2015, Pb 2016 | Sphere | 488p | Bought copy | Buy the book
When Mac Kelsey got his lorry wedged under a low country bridge, having been misdirected by his satnav, he might have thought that his delivery run of animal feed could get no worse. He would have been wrong. Afterwards, locals cross at being trapped either in or outside of this little hamlet, discover a mystery – the lorry is empty, the driver is gone, only a trail of blood to indicate he was ever there at all.
DI Ben Cooper is given the task of investigating Kelsey’s disappearance, becoming increasingly sure that at least one of the inhabitants of this tiny Peak District village of Shawhead knows more than they’re letting on. With the road blocked to allow forensic officers to do their work, the mood becomes ever more claustrophobic, angry and suspicious. These households might live on top of each other almost but it’s clear that little love is lost between most of them and the police officers certainly don’t see them at their best. It’s also entirely possible that the police don’t see some of them at all – these houses and farms have a lot of land. There are so many places to hide. So many secrets.
The Murder Road is, I’m ashamed to admit, the first novel by Stephen Booth that I’ve read, even though this is the fifteenth book in the Cooper and Fry series. I couldn’t resist the sound of it – the Peak District location, the limited number of suspects, the conundrum of Mac Kelsey, the potential link between this and other accidents on these otherwise quiet and peaceful roads. I fell for Ben Cooper immediately. I was a little surprised to find that DS Diane Fry, his colleague in the series title, features barely at all and now works in Nottingham. But what we do see of her makes me keen to know more. In fact all of this book does, which is why I went out straight away and bought five more.
I love Stephen Booth’s writing. The Peak District setting, the area around the town of New Mills in this case (a town that used to feature on long walks when I was a youngster) is so well evoked, capturing the beauty of this part of the world while also hinting that life there isn’t always easy. It’s the perfect location for murder, after all.
The cast of characters is also brilliantly done, as we move from one suspect to another and back again. The interplay between Cooper and the new ex-city DS Dev Sharma also works well, especially as the ripples of this appointment are felt by everybody in the team and Cooper himself has only just been promoted. There’s a lot of shifting going on as the ground settles.
I am mystified as to why this series has passed me by. It has everything I want from a crime series – great writing, atmospheric well-drawn locations, intriguing characters (both suspect and police) and a thoroughly satisfying mystery. I am now hooked and can’t wait to catch up on the older books in the series while also diving into the next, Secrets of Death, which, I’m thrilled to say, has just arrived to review! I love it when I discover a new author for my favourite shelf, even if I have been rather slow on the uptake.