Dying to Sin by Stephen Booth

dying to sinRenovation work on a derelict farm uncovers a woman’s body, buried near the house.

She had been buried several years before.
So, who was she, and why has no one missed her?

In this book DS Diane Fry’s future with the Edendale police seems to be a little tenuous when bureaucratic changes are made.

That threat to the security of her current position ought to provide a pathway to the change she’s wanted,  and a return to city policing rather than the rural setting in which she’s never felt at home. So why does she seem so unnerved about it?

Stephen Booth again blends a modern day mystery with local folklore and sets it within the harsh winter landscape of the Derbyshire peak district.

 

 

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The Shrouded Path

the-shrouded-pathI discovered Sarah Ward at a good time: when she’d only published two books.

That made it easier to start at the beginning of her work and not fall behind in my reading as new books were released. Since that initial discovery, she has added two more volumes to her DC Childs series.

In each of Ward’s books a crime in the present has links to events in the past.

Ward refers to this in a recent article.

My crime novels set in the Derbyshire Peaks usually have two timelines. I’m fascinated by crimes which have a long gestation, old hurts that simmer away for years, even decades, until they explode into violence.

http://www.crimetime.co.uk/sarah-wards-the-shrouded-path-what-is-it-about-the-1950s/

In the same article Ward says this about her most recent book:

…in The Shrouded Path. Six girls walk into a railway in the 1950s and only five emerge. The act of violence which takes place in the tunnel has reverberations up to the present day

The sense of time and place is what continues to draw me to Ward’s books. Those elements are common traits of the crime fiction I want to read and is why Ward is among a group of favoured authors I’ve been reading.

A High Mortality of Doves, by Kate Ellis

doves.jpg

With its Derbyshire setting, within a period immediately after the First World War, this book fulfils both the geographical and historical criteria that attracted me to a particular type of crime fiction.

In Wenfield, Derbyshire, the villagers are well aware of the cost of the recent war. Many of its men didn’t return, others returned home damaged in body or mind.

No less damaged are those who were left behind. Family members who turn to mediums for comfort. And family members who, by clinging to vain hope, make themselves vulnerable to a more deadly threat.

A letter draws Myrtle Bligh to an isolated place to meet Stanley, the man she’d loved prior to reports of his death in battle. In the hope that he’d survived, she follows the letter’s instructions, but it isn’t Stanley who meets her.

She becomes the first victim of a killer preying on Wenfield’s women.

The story alternates between the viewpoints of Flora Winsmore, the local doctor’s daughter and Albert Lincoln, a Scotland Yard detective brought in from London when local police recognise they are out of their depth.

Flora’s local knowledge is valuable to Albert the outsider and they develop an increasingly close relationship as they try to find the perpetrator before anyone else is murdered.

The lingering effects of war upon a community, are at the heart of the crimes within this story, where casualties of war are not always victims of the battlefield and those responsible for the damage may not be considered as enemy combatants.

Thanks to Sarah Ward for making me aware of this book through her blog entry here: https://crimepieces.com/2018/05/31/reading-round-up-2/

Scared to Live by Stephen Booth

In the seventh of the Cooper and Fry series, DC Ben Cooper is involved in an investigation of the murder of the reclusive Rose Shepherd, who didn’t  legally exist.

Meanwhile, DS Dianne Fry is sent to investigate a fatal house fire that seems to have been deliberately lit, resulting in the deaths of a mother and her two sons.

A hint of international conspiracy also raises its head, but is that possibility a help or a hindrance; and which case does it involve?

Clues are accumulated and investigations hit a few dead ends until eventually the reader is hit by that “wow” or goose bump  moment when disparate pieces of the story start to fit together and the steady build up of information starts to pay off.

The who-dunnit mystery throws up several viable perpetrators, before the final revelations of guilt. The complex and baffling cases are convincingly wrapped up with the questions of who, why and how being answered.

Along the way concerns about mental illness are raised with one suspect displaying erratic behaviour after discontinuing medication, and Cooper’s family has to come to terms with the possibility of there being an hereditary aspect to their mother’s schizophrenia.

It was pleasing to see the difficult relationship Dianne Fry has with Ben Cooper starting to mellow a little. I think the constant friction between them could only go so far without testing my patience if it continued at the same level.

I enjoyed the setting of a lot of this book. A lot of the important events happen a round Matlock Bath. It’s a town I remember visiting at least twice in my childhood and I still have some memories of the town and its topography.

One of the climactic scenes centres on “The Illuminations”, a major light festival in the town featuring a parade of imaginative, light decorated row boats along the river Derwent.

My parents were on holiday in the area when this event was underway around 15 years ago, and as “foreign” tourists were invited to act as judges to determine the best decorated boat.

 

 

The Dead Place, Stephen Booth

An unidentified skeleton. Sinister phone calls. A missing office worker (probably abducted, maybe murdered). And a dead dog, shot through the heart.
All keeping the Edendale police busy in the Derbyshire peak district.
Is there a genuine crime to investigate or is someone with a death fetish playing macabre games? If there is a crime – has it been committed yet?
What is relevant and what is a distraction?

The Dead Place is the sixth in the Cooper and Fry series. Like the previous books, history, folklore and landscape each play a significant part in the story.

Both DC Cooper and DS Fry are challenged by their own experiences of death, making this case particularly difficult for Dianne Fry, as memories of an earlier case are revived.

A Daily Mail quote on the front cover says “not for the squeamish”. I suspect the warning relates to the book’s detailed descriptions of what happens to a body after death. The worst parts are not necessarily the natural results of decay, instead I found the more disturbing aspects were descriptions of the unnatural cosmetic processes used upon the dead to keep up appearances for grieving family leading up to the funeral or cremation.

Those attempts to sanitise death (due to a fear of death?) are also evident in the language used to avoid it.

Cooper knew that he’d have to face up to his own death some time. Like most people, he’d always thought he could avoid it for ever. And perhaps he’d read too many stories in which people didn’t actually die. Instead, they passed away, breathed their last, or were no more.

I’ve enjoyed all of the Cooper and Fry books I’ve read so far, but out of the six, I found this one a little less appealing; not because of it’s often grim (though fascinating) content, but because it seemed less straight forward and focused than the others. The conclusion brought loose ends together but I felt dissatisfied with the resolution of the ambiguities and uncertainties set up earlier. However, as part of an ongoing series, there are other aspects of this story that make up for that dissatisfaction.

We learn more about DS Fry’s past, and her troubled relationship with DC Cooper shows some signs (maybe temporarily) of mellowing. Ben Cooper also faces new family challenges, that are not associated with the memory of his hero father (who had been killed years earlier during his own police service).

And yet again DC Ben Cooper’s music collection stirs the pool of nostalgia.

We clearly have the same musical taste. Gloria introduced me to the Scottish band Runrig early in our friendship.

Cooper listens to the following song while driving away from an incident he was investigating.

The Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins

devils diceA new author and a Derbyshire setting to a crime mystery novel – it’s a book I really wanted to like, and at first I did.

This book may be the first in my recent venture into crime novels that has been written in the first person.

I think this allowed Watkins to write with more humour than has been evident in  a lot of the other crime fiction I’ve read, Her protagonist, DI Meg Dalton at times expresses a mildly self-deprecating view of her circumstances.

I hoped he wasn’t going to come over all patronising on me. I wasn’t even blonde anymore – I’d dyed my hair a more intelligent shade of brown, matched  to my mum’s for authenticity

I also liked Watkins’ descriptive skill.

An elderly dog lay in the corner draped over the side of his basket like one of Dali’s soft clocks.

However despite wanting to love this book, and the early fulfilment of that desire with writing like the above quotes, I found a bad taste became more and more evident the further into the book I read; all due to an increasing anti-religious, anti-God sentiment that started to pervade the story.

Here is one example:

“If I thought someone had created this world deliberately, I don’t think I could live with my fury. So, no. No benevolent gods in my construction of reality.”

This sentiment, which echoes attitudes I’ve read from Stephen Fry, is only part of the ongoing, cumulatively negative portrayal of religion and God that eventually led to some unfortunate, raving, religious nuttery from one character.

For me that unavoidable aspect of the book spoiled an intriguing story that starts with the death of a man in a small cave. Beside his body a Victorian era carving of the grim reaper and the dead man’s initials are found. Was it murder or suicide? And how could the century old carvings seemingly predict his death in that place?

The story includes good use of landscape, one of the elements that drew me to certain crime fiction writing in the first place. Like Stephen Booth’s One Last Breath, Watkins takes the reader underground through claustrophobic cave systems, bringing back memories of other stories I’ve read at different times in my life* and adding to my determination to never try caving as a hobby.

Watkins also looks at some serious social issues relating to genetics, terminal illness, euthanasia and the sacredness (or not) of life, very emotive issues that don’t always have clear cut simple answers; but it is through raising those issues that the author jumps feet first onto the anti-religious path mentioned earlier. I continued reading with the hope that she would also bring a more reasoned consideration of  religious adherence, but right to the end, and particularly at the books climax, religious observance and belief in God is portrayed in extremely negative terms, and tantamount to being the cause of humanity’s ethical dilemmas, holding mankind back from more caring and “progressive” ways.

…if religious folk don’t want to take advantage of euthanasia for themselves, that’s fine… But why should they stop others based on their beliefs? They can believe in Santa Claus if they want, but don’t use it as a reason to torture people

At the end of the book there are two sample chapters of a follow up, Dead Man’s Daughter. They seem to promise more of the better aspects of The Devil’s Dice and I’ll probably give it a go when it’s published, with the hope that Watkins doesn’t take the same kind of route in her second book as she did in her debut.

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* Particularly one of Alan Garner’s early books (The Weirdstone of Brisingamen or The Moon of Gomrath) and Marc Chadbourn’s Underground. The latter being set in the coal mines of my childhood home region.

 

 

 

Keep the Home Fires Burning, edited by Jen Edgar

home firesKeep the Home Fires Burning (World War II Stories from Swadlincote and Surrounding Areas), edited by Jen Edgar.

For several months I had this book on a wish list with a second hand book dealer, before I finally decided it was time to buy it.

I’ve long wanted to find out more about the wartime history of my family home-village, Newhall, where I spent my childhood. Swadlincote is the nearest town, and by the time I lived there, village and town had more or less merged into each other.

Located at the southern tip of Derbyshire, Swadlincote is close to the borders of Staffordshire and Leicestershire and was developed around the presence of coal and clay. My family had lived in this area for generations until we moved to Australia in 1971.

I’ve heard a few war time anecdotes from my parents, and I’ve been interesting in finding out more of that war time history beyond those family stories. Disappointingly this book didn’t provide what I’d been hoping for.

Based on personal interviews of residents of the area, the book has been compiled as a collection of memories that haven’t been given any context. They remain as separate, unrelated accounts that could relate to anywhere instead of having any particular local relevance.

For me the most significant aspect of the book was the involvement of students from my former school (William Allitt School, Newhall) in the interviewing process.

I’m sure there would have been many more interesting stories out in the community, sadly stories that are being lost as a war time generation dies out. There would also be a framework of historical events that could have given a collection of anecdotes and memories a logical context. Despite what I’m sure were worthy intentions, I found this book misses those opportunities