Sphere | 2017 (13 July) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
Ten years ago Annette Bower disappeared from her home in Bakewell in the Peak District. She went out to walk her dog and never returned, unlike the dog which later turned up at home. Her husband, Reece Bower, was the obvious suspect and the police were convinced that they had the right man. But murder is a difficult charge to make stick when there’s no body, even more so when the supposed victim’s father insists he spotted her in Buxton some time later. Now, all these years later, the case is about to be reopened and for the strangest of reasons – Reece Bower has also vanished. Detective Inspector Ben Cooper is certain that this is no simple missing person case. He’s sure the two disappearances are connected. Maybe at last the police can find out what really happened to Annette Bower.
DS Diane Fry is still working for the Major Crime Unit based in Nottingham. There is no beautiful scenery here, like there is for Ben. Instead she is faced with a tense urban community, torn apart by poverty and, since the closure of the coalmines, a lack of jobs. Life is particularly hard for the large population of immigrant Poles who are trying to make a life in the deprived town of Shirebrook. When one is found dead, Diane has a job on her hands to make anyone even talk about it.
Dead in the Dark is – and I can hardly believe it – the 17th novel in Stephen Booth’s wonderful Cooper and Fry series. I have yet to read them all, although I’m getting round to it, but I’ve never had a problem dipping into any of the books. They are all self-contained, although this does mean that you can miss out on the development (and history) of the relationship between Ben and Diane. I must admit that I regard the two as rather disconnected but this will probably change once I’ve read more of the earlier novels.
Dead in the Dark presents two cases – Ben’s and Diane’s. I love this series especially for its Peak District setting and so, not surprisingly, it’s Ben’s that caught my attention most of all. I love the descriptions of the landscape and I also love how Ben Cooper is such a part of it. He walks it, he has family who farm it, it’s in his blood. The Annette Bower case is particularly intriguing and I can understand why it gets under Ben’s skin. As his boss tells him, Ben is a policeman who is respected for his hunches, and his hunches are put to good use here.
Diane Fry’s case is much more gritty and this is backed up by the themes of immigration and politics – topical but no less painful for that. I completely empathised with the author’s viewpoint and it certainly made me think but I did find it a harder story to read. Rightly or wrongly, like Ben Cooper, I’m happier when walking the hills and dales of the Peaks.
This is fine storytelling. It doesn’t rely on twists or shocks, just good plotting and policing, and an intriguing case. As usual with this series, we’re introduced to an interesting set of characters who help and hinder Ben as he tries to get to the bottom of peoples’ lies and secrets. But Ben himself is such a likeable man who, despite the sadness in his past, contrasts with Diane who is clearly troubled. I love reading about these characters. I love the world in which Ben moves and I really enjoy the cases with which he is confronted. I always look forward to the next instalment of this wonderful series and now I must try and be patient again. But at least I have some of the backlist to catch up with while I wait.