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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Black Dog and Dancing with the Virgins by Stephen Booth

 Black Dog  is the first in Booth's series featuring Ben Cooper and Diane Fry.  Set in the Peak District of England, the novel's sense of place is firmly established, not only in the terrain, but in the characters.

Ben Cooper is a well-liked young DC with a deep understanding of the area and the people who live there.  He loves his job and hopes for promotion.  When fifteen-year-old Laura Vernon is reported missing, Ben becomes immersed in the case, but a schizophrenic episode with his mother proves disastrous for Ben's concentration and his work and reputation as a steady detective suffer.

Diane Fry is a recent transfer to the area.  She, too, hopes for promotion, but her methods are different.  Diane pays attention to her superiors and tries to provide what they want.  Her ambition is calculating; Ben's is not.  It isn't that she is a bad person, but her background is very different and so are her perceptions.  

Ben is empathetic and intuitive.  Suffice it to say, Diane is not.   Knowing  Ben's good reputation with the locals, Diane makes condescending and hurtful remarks, which for the most part, Ben ignores.  And yet, by-the-book Diane somehow gets involved in some of Ben's impetuous, intuitive schemes, and in spite of herself feels a bit protective toward the more innocent Ben.  

Ben feels overburdened by his father's reputation and deals with his mother's illness without revealing the situation, which would have gained him some sympathy concerning his erratic behavior.  Diane has a traumatic experience in her past that continues to have an impact on her thinking.  

Laura Vernon was no innocent, and her parents have some salacious secrets of their own.  Harry Dickinson, the old man who discovers Laura's body, isn't telling all he knows.  In fact, Harry and his two friends remind me a bit of MacBeth's witches whose equivocation influences so much of the action in the play.  Couldn't help but eagerly anticipate scenes with Harry.

This is not a book with a lot of frantic action.  It has a relatively slow pace, and that is a good thing --you get to know the characters, ponder their relationships, make a few guesses about development.

I did make a good guess at the murderer fairly early, but wasn't certain by any means.  

Stephen Booth caught my interest and held it.  

Mystery.  Originally published in 2000.  Print version:  531 pages.

Dancing with the Virgins  the Nine Virgins are nine stones that form a circle on Ringham Moor in the Peak District.  When Jenny Weston is murdered there, police immediately suspect a connection to a woman who was found weeks earlier, dreadfully wounded but alive.

D.C. Ben Cooper, who lost his hoped for promotion to Diane Fry, is partnered with D.C. Todd Weenink for this investigation.  Fry is concentrating on the previous victim who has no memory of the actual attack.  Cooper and his partner are also on the case, interviewing the Rangers and anyone who might have seen anything.

This book is darker than the previous one.  It seems a little busy with sub-plots, but I still enjoyed the slow filling in of information about the main characters.  I'll continue reading this series.

Mystery.  Originally published in 2002.  (both books have recently been republished) 
Print version:  432 pages.


  1. I haven't read this author before, but I do love mysteries set in England. Both sound really good to me.

    Sometimes I prefer fast-paced books and other times I prefer ones that take their time. I nearly always like a book that spends time on character development.

  2. Wendy - I do like this series for the setting and the characters.