An excellent first novel, set in the Peak District of the UK. Features Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, Detective Constables in the fictional town of Edendale trying to cope with a missing teenage girl and then with her murder as well as a host of personal issues. Well done--I've read further in the series and they only get better!
A young girl is missing in Northern England. Her body is soon discovered by an old man and his black Labrador. The police begin investigating the crime, but can't seem to get past the uncooperative suspects, including the girl's own family. This book is a great mystery read! It is suspenseful with several unsuspected twists and turns in the plot that will keep you hooked until the end.
First Line: The sudden glare of colors beat painfully on the young woman's eyes as she burst from the back door of the cottage and hurled herself into the brightness.
Welcome to Edendale, a village in the Peak District of England. Edendale is home to Constable Ben Cooper, an officer with a bright future who nevertheless worries that he will never be able to fill the shoes of his father, a police sergeant who died in the line of duty in Ben's own precinct. Ben relies a great deal on intuition and leaps of logic in his work.
New to the Edendale Police is Diane Fry, a very ambitious young woman on the fast track to promotion. She relies on good, solid investigative work that follows the rules. She's aloof, prickly and more than a little tired of the fact that the people living there tell her nothing while they all treat Ben Cooper like a beloved son.
Not exactly the most promising start to any sort of partnership, is it?
Ben and Diane find themselves thrown together more often than not when 15-year-old Laura Vernon is found murdered. Like Diane, Laura and her parents are outsiders, outsiders that the villagers have never been very friendly toward. Booth has about the best description of how people think in an insular community, and it reminds me of why I no longer live in one:
"Yes, you only really knew people when you knew everything about them. You needed to know it all-- from the exact moment they had been conceived in the long grass behind the village hall to the first word they had spoken, and the contents of their fifth-form school reports. You needed to know what size shoes they wore, how much money they owed the credit card company, when their bout of chicken pox had been, and which foot had the ingrowing toenail. You had to know who their first sexual encounter had been with, what brand of condom they had used, and whether the experience had been satisfactory. Now that was knowing somebody."
In a village that thinks that way, Diane Fry has her work cut out for her. Actually the entire police force has its work cut out for it because Harry Dickinson, the old man who found Laura's body, is a close-mouthed, cantankerous soul who knows more than he's telling. What is it that Harry knows? Why do none of the villagers like the Vernons? Why is Laura's father determined to pin his daughter's murder on the gardener he's just fired?
I found Booth's depiction of the Peak District very atmospheric...almost chilling. The plot was satisfyingly convoluted and had a very deliberate pace. In fact the pace of the story reminded me a great deal of Harry Dickinson, the old man with a lot to say but who wasn't going to say it until he was damned good and ready. While the plot marched on, I got to know Ben and Diane a bit better. Ben is the intuitive one, the one who has heavy family responsibilities, and he's also prone to bouts with the "black dog"-- slang for depression. Diane is the anti-social one. The one who knows how to dress, how to behave and what to say in order to be promoted, but one who wants to keep everyone at arm's length. Although I found all the prickliness tiresome at first, once Booth began telling us their back stories, I was willing to set that impatience aside and enjoy the story more.
Enjoy it I did. The setting, the plot, the deliberate pacing, and the characters all combined to make me not pay close attention to the clues Booth planted all along the way. When the murderer's identity was revealed, my reaction wasn't one of shock but one of "Well of course that's who it was!" Not only that, but by book's end I fully came to appreciate the title of the book. In Black Dog, Stephen Booth has laid the foundation for an excellent mystery series. I look forward to reading more.
A terrific mystery, much better written than most. Very exciting and surprising.
One of the best mystery / crime books I've read this year!
Cleverly written detective/mystery story. Set in rural part of England. Good character mix. High quality for a first novel. Will look for more by this author.
Enjoyable English whodunit.
From Publishers Weekly: "The cryptic activities of eccentric, uncooperative murder suspect Harry Dickinson add depth to this intriguing first-time offering, a psychological suspense story from a British journalist. Dickinson is one of a triad of macabre old men who haunt the woods and countryside near Edendale in northern England's Peak District. Out walking his black Labrador one sweltering August evening, the retired miner finds a running shoe belonging to Laura Vernon, a 15-year-old reported missing from her mansion on the Mount. Investigating the case is a promising young local detective, Ben Cooper, whose heart is set on a sergeant's post also sought by the Edendale Police Division's icy new up-and-comer, Diane Fry. Personal troublesDCooper's mentally ill mother and memories of his heroic cop father's murder, and Fry's dim recollection of past terrorsDdistract the two from their work, but somehow they patch together a case, sexual tension building between them all the while. The list of suspects, including Dickinson and Laura's wealthy father, Graham Vernon, grows to include the Vernons' gardener and Mrs. Vernon's young lover; Laura's biker boyfriend; and a few business associates of the Vernons'. Cooper is sickened to learn that Vernon's male and female co-workers and clients of his financial consultancy business were often invited to the Mount for orgiesDand that a few may have included Laura. But Cooper, too, is demonstrating increasingly unprofessional behavior, which costs him dearly and deprives Fry of her promotion. Only his brother Matt understands that Cooper may be suffering from the mental "black dog" of his mother's schizophrenia. The leisurely pace and Dickinson's philosophical conversations with his friends on loyalty, death and television detective shows may disappoint readers of fast moving crime fiction, but Booth's intention here, at which he succeeds admirably, is to unveil secret lives against the seemingly placid background of a country village." Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This was the first time I had read a book by Stephen Booth. I truly loved the many eccentric, shady, and pitiful characters he included. He wove their lives into an intriguing and surprising story. It was so refreshing to read about people who were not perfect in every way, and therefore not artificial, including the detectives who solve the mystery. I grew quite fond of Detective Ben Cooper and wanted to know more about his family.
Considering that Black Dog is Stephen Booth's first novel, and that it's a mystery series opener, it's really quite good.
As the book opens, Ben Cooper of the Edendale police (in the Peak District of England) is involved in the case of a missing teenaged girl, Laura Vernon. According to her parents, she was a wonderful child, interested in school and horses, and would never just up and run away. The police force is giving its all on this case, but the body is actually discovered by an elderly man, Harry Dickinson, and his dog, Jess, while out on a walk. He's interviewed by the police, but Cooper realizes that Dickinson's not telling everything he knows. But he's not the only one keeping secrets. It seems that many people in the small town of Edendale are keeping mum, hindering the investigation at every turn.
For a first novel in series, it's well done. The author goes to great lengths to introduce Ben Cooper, who is the son of a local police legend, and who lives at the family home, helping his brother take care of his ailing mother. Ben is also gearing up for promotion to sergeant, but Cooper joins the ranks of other UK angst-ridden detectives who carry an immense amount of emotional damage. He's also met his match in a new DC, Diane Fry (a very unlikable character), who is ambitious and has no scruples when it comes to getting what she wants. She has it in for Ben almost immediately, and their complex relationship is examined as the story progresses.
The book is a bit longer than it needed to be and while the end will catch you by surprise, it's a bit contrived. However, considering that it is the author's first book, I was impressed.
I'd definitely recommend it to fans of British police procedurals; cozy readers may find it a bit more complex than what they're used to reading. Overall -- a good start to a series which I plan to explore further.
Whenever someone asks, I tell them that my favorite genre is murder mystery, but that I don't really have a favorite sub-genre. I confess that's not entirely true. I have a soft spot for the sub-sub-sub genre of character studies with a murder mystery wrapped around it, where Whodunnit and Howdunnit takes a back seat to how does this affect the survivors, the town, and the investigators. Ironically, most of my favorites in this area (besides Sweden's Camilla Lackberg) come from Great Britain and Ireland. Stuart MacBride. Tana French. Ian Rankin. AND after reading Black Dog, I'm going to add Stephen Booth to that list.
Detective Constable Ben Cooper is our protagonist, trying to balance a challenging case involving a missing soon found dead (which shouldn't qualify as a spoiler; it's on the back cover) and career with ongoing family issues and a quest for a personal life. Newcomer DC Diane Fry may help on one or more of those fronts, or she may be be biggest hindrance he has encountered to date. Or perhaps that title is more aptly earned by prime witness Harry Dickinson, whose name seems to keep popping up in other aspects of the investigation.
This book drew me in, and made me care about its characters some in a positive way, others negative. I never felt that the people in the book were there to move the mystery along. On the other hand, I never felt like the mystery was there to simply give the characters a reason for being, either.
Alright, they say that confession is good for the soul I thought the book was a little longer than it needed to be. 446 pages of content translated into 13 CDs on audiobook. I think a scene or two could have hit the cutting room floor without sacrificing plot, tone, or understanding of our characters. Of course, it's also possible that this already occurred, and the earlier draft was even longer.
I couldn't sit here and suggest a scene that SHOULD be cut, either. One of the issues of character studies in a procedural is that they DO require a lot of content in order to discover and understand the characters. Trim here, trim there, and we end up with a hole in our understanding, which makes the entire work less than it could/should be.
4 ½ stars, but I'll round up to 5 - nice first effort, looking forward to catching up with the rest of the books in this series.
Very readable, well-written, and the locale is very evocative of the wonderful setting of the Peak District in Derbyshire. But I'm hoping for better as this series gets into its stride.
Other reviewers have (quite rightly, I think) commented on how the author tries too hard to make the female half of the detecting pair "complicated" -- I don't mind unlikable, but DC Diane Fry's moodiness and sullen assumption of the worst in everyone says more "psychotic cow" than "complicated" ... The fact is, we eventually learn that the woman has very good reason to be defensive and depressed, and the authors "cute" drip-feed of her backstory belittles that. While, dare I say it, her reluctant partner, DC Ben Cooper's personal problems and personality quirks just make him seem more real and likable.
Another thing I found very worrying -- Possible SPOILER (but I think this becomes obvious from an early stage in the novel) -- is what I would describe as "victim blaming." The victim and her family are not nice people, and that's ok. But there's a relatively superficial attitude to the murder, and her family's grief that rings very false.
This review started at 4 stars, and I've talked myself down to 3. I think I'd better stop ...
(Just an additional aside: Diane Fry is NOT Ben Cooper's "sidekick"!! I think it's to the author's credit that he really is trying to depict a partnership of equals -- two detectives whose personalities and talents balance each other out, and even causes friction.)