Secrets of Death | Stephen Booth | 2016 (16 June) | Sphere | 394p | Review copy | Buy the book
The Peak District contains so many places of outstanding beauty that it can be hardly a surprise that some people choose it for their final hours. Roger Farrell chose the quiet car park of an information centre, the perfect place to watch his last breathtaking sunset. His remains, distorted by the gas he chose, are found in his car the next day, becoming another member of that exclusive club – the Suicide Tourists. But Detective Inspector Ben Cooper is suspicious. Farrell’s death is proving to be one too many. Outsiders have been found dead in picturesque parts of the Peaks far too often over recent weeks. And when Cooper finds inside the car a small card with Secrets of Death written on it, along with what looks like an online password, Cooper realises that his fears may be vindicated.
Secrets of Death is the sixteenth novel in Stephen Booth’s wonderful Cooper and Fry crime series. I’m relatively new to this series, having previously read only the last novel, The Murder Road (in my defence, I have since bought five others), and just like that one Secrets of Death works well on its own if this is where you’d like to begin. Where beginners like myself do lose out is on the relationship between Cooper and DS Diana Fry who is now working on serious crimes in Nottingham. Fry has a larger role in this novel than the last – thanks to Roger Farrell – and I’m becoming increasingly intrigued by her.
Cooper’s investigation, his method of working, and his professional relationship with his team, including its newest members, are the main appeal of these novels, more so, I’d argue, than the crimes themselves. This is saying something because the crimes are fascinating, intriguing and rather unusual. The case here certainly is. But watching Cooper work through his day, managing his team in a role that is quite new to him (he’s only recently been promoted), investigating thoroughly each clue, while trying not to become too interested in the pathologist’s new assistant (who has a particular fascination in suicides), is hugely enjoyable and informative. There are hints of a troubled past, that there has been a great grief, and Cooper the man is every bit as important to these novels as Cooper the detective.
And so too is the spectacular Peak District scenery. I know this area a little and I love to be taken here to once familiar places, the names of which I still remember years on. The Peak District is especially well used in Secrets of Death. Its beauty plays a vital role in each of the cases that confronts Cooper and his team. This is an investigation that seems to take place mostly outdoors and I really like that this countryside is so important to the men and women of this novel, even if some have now chosen to turn their back on it.
Secrets of Death features an unusual case. It develops relatively slowly and is refreshingly gimmick free. Stephen Booth’s writing is such a pleasure to read and I enjoy so much spending time with his characters in such a beautiful location, the mystery expertly revealed bit by bit, while Cooper and Fry continue their little dance around each other, continuing to build their lives while, for a week or two, they must confront that must dreadful of things – murder. I love this series. Long may it continue.
The Murder Road