One Last Breath by Stephen Booth

I’ve been reading Booth’s Cooper and Fry series in order, and I’m therefore not sure how well the stories work as stand alone books. While each covers an individual police investigation spanning from the committing of a crime through to its resolution, the ongoing relationships of recurring characters progress from book to book, and therefore familiarity with their interaction and experience in previous stories is probably needed for a more complete appreciation of the subsequent books.

Near the beginning of One Last Breath, Mansell Quinn is released from Sudbury minimum security prison after completing his “life” sentence for a vicious and bloody murder, but instead of heading to the designated post-release hostel in Burton-on-Trent, he chooses to head back to his former home town, leading police to fear for the safety of his surviving family and former friends.

Regardless of the story itself, Stephen Booth’s fifth Cooper and Fry book got my attention very quickly with references to places familiar from my childhood, including two mentioned in the previous paragraph.

see here: Burton Baths

Firstly, I was born in Burton and was quite familiar with the town during the 60s and early 70s. It’s where my family did a lot of our shopping, and its Victorian era swimming “baths” was where I learned to swim and where I spent many Saturday mornings.

Secondly, while I never personally saw the Sudbury prison, my dad’s cricket team played there once or twice a year against a prison team. For obvious reasons, the prison team was the only one not to play away games, and it was the only time that families weren’t allowed to accompany my dad’s team to a match.

Thirdly, one of the characters recalls the petrifying wells of Matlock Bath; another note of personal familiarity. These wells fascinated and scared me. In reality everyday objects were left in limestone rich waters, and over time the accumulation of limestone upon the objects would give them the appearance of turning to stone. In my childish naiveté I had the fear that if I accidently touched the water I’d be immediately changed to stone.

While those familiar references make these books personally  appealing, they are only an added pleasure, supplementing the intrigue, mystery and unpredictability of each story.

Booth likes to include local geography, history and folklore into his stories. This book has references to caving, centred on cave systems around Castleton. Reading it brought back memories of the claustrophobic feelings I’d experienced in other books where characters had to make their way through dark, narrow underground passages or mine shafts*. One Last Breath gives an added sense of danger to that claustrophobia by weaving within the story the real life account of Neil Moss, a young man who became trapped while exploring a new shaft within the Peak Cavern system. He died and his body couldn’t be recovered.**

Throughout the Cooper and Fry books, the complications of family and family histories regularly feature; such as Dianne Fry’s search for the sister who disappeared when she was a child, and Ben Cooper having to live up to the legacy of his father, a respected policeman killed while on duty.
This book expands the issue of family ghosts, and how the deeds of one generation can effect those of another.

Within this book, Booth manages to bring all of those elements together in its conclusion. And like the books before it nothing is predictable.

the-entrance-is-ruined.jpg

Peak Cavern, Castleton

 

https://goo.gl/images/ED2Y7i

___________________

* By Alan Garner, either The Weirdstone of Brisingamen or The Moon of Gomrath – which one I don’t recall, where children have to escape through a narrow tunnel system under the Cheshire landscape.

And Mark Chadbourn’s Underground, based in the coalmines around the Leicestershire/Derbyshire border.

** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Moss_(caver)

Advertisements

The Hanging Valley, Peter Robinson

hanging valleyThe Hanging Valley gives a taste of both new and old.

The fourth of Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks books is the first to include a section set in Canada where the writer now lives.

While Robinson takes his protagonist into new geographical territory, away from his Yorkshire home territory, he also, at one point, slips into an old descriptive cliché, defining a woman’s appearance by reference to her “ample breasts”, an example of  the unimaginative descriptions of female characters used too commonly by male writers.

It’s not a major issue in this book, but it’s the kind of thing that I now find grating when I read it. How often does the ampleness (or otherwise) of a woman’s breasts play an indispensable plot point in fiction compared to the frequency of references to them? The extent to which it grates is probably reflected by the amount of time I’ve spent writing about a single instance in the book.

I remind myself that I’m reading something written thirty years ago, so shouldn’t judge it too harshly for featuring writing of its time. I’ll be more concerned if his more recent books continue along the same path.

It’s not hard to acknowledge the period in which they were written. Music lover Banks listens to his favourite recordings on cassette tape, and he flies to Canada on a plane where smoking is still permitted. I quite enjoy that slightly nostalgic view into a past era.

This book starts with a murder near a quiet Yorkshire village, Swainshead, and as previously mentioned the investigation takes Alan Banks to the Canadian city of Toronto. It is clear the author is familiar with both landscapes and his descriptions of Toronto are no less vivid than those of the wild Yorkshire Dales.

“Banks gave the CN Tower a miss, but he walked around the Eaton Centre, a huge shopping mall with a glass roof and a flock of sculptured Canada geese flying in to land at one end, and he visited Yonge and Dundas after dark to watch the hookers and street kids on the neon strip. He took a ferry to Ward’s Island and admired the Toronto skyline before walking along the boardwalk on the south side. Lake Ontario glittered in the sun, as vast as an ocean.”

The book also touches upon a situation I find familiar. As a childhood migrant who left England when I was old enough to remember a lot of my life there, I can identify with the nostalgic feelings of a group of ex-pat men Banks meets in a bar. Long ago I came to the same realisation of the futility of longing for places that no longer exist, or that have only ever existed in nostalgia-tainted memories.

“The longer you’re away, the more you idealize the image of home… of course, what people don’t realize is that the country’s changed beyond all recognition… We’d be foreigners there now, but to us home is still the Queen’s Christmas message, the last night of the Proms, Derby Day, a Test match at Lords, the FA Cup Final – without bloodshed – leafy lanes, a green and pleasant land. Ordered and changeless. Bloody hell, even the dark Satanic mills have some sort of  olde worlde charm for homesick expatriates”

While crime investigation is obviously central to this series of books, and I enjoy the twists and turns of the unfolding mystery, their settings in time and place are what makes them particularly interesting to me. I suppose the appeal relates at least a little to nostalgia and maybe to hints of the futile homesickness described in the quote above.

The DCI Banks Yorkshire based books are set slightly to the north of Stephen Booth’s Derbyshire, within very similar landscapes. So both Robinson’s and Booth’s series fit comfortably alongside each other. Although, when starting a new book by the other author it can take time to get used to stepping across the county border and to re-familiarise myself with the characters of that other place.

Blind to the Bones, Stephen Booth

Officers were explaining patiently to distraught mothers that it was impossible for somebody who had been missing for only twenty-four hours to have been reduced to a skeleton in that time, no matter how badly they’d been eating recently.

 

After enjoying Blood on the Tongue so much, I wanted to head straight into the next of Stephen Booth’s Cooper and Fry books, but found the early chapters surprisingly hard going.

The previous book’s build up was increasingly rewarding right up to the final, satisfying resolution of its many varied story threads. Starting this one so soon afterwards was like having to immediately prepare for another journey. I think the “hard going” was a result of having to  become familiar with another itinerary and some different travelling companions before the glow of a previous, well-loved trip has subsided.

Blind to the Bones includes the disappearance of a young woman who went missing two years previously; a case with significance to DC Fry whose sister  vanished during her teens.

The young woman’s mobile phone is found not long before her former housemate is found murdered on the Derbyshire moors. Is there a connection between the two?

Again Booth weaves elements of  folk customs landscape and community issues into his stories. In this book the Derbyshire practice of well-dressing is featured. He also introduces Morris dancing, although in a more brutal, industrial age form than the more familiar prancing, waving and rattling version that I had been more familiar with – having seen practitioners of that in the market place of my childhood home town prior to moving to Australia.

Investigations into the girl’s disappearance and her housemate’s murder aren’t made easy by the families involved, one resisting and avoiding the police as much as possible, the other going to the other extreme, always seeking attention.

Family complications also bring challenges to work relationships among the investigating police, putting pressure on already tenuous friendships. How far should a workmate get involved in a colleague’s family difficulties?

The tensions between DC Cooper and DC Fry continue in this book. To date every one step towards resolution is followed by two steps back. Booth has now written seventeen of his Cooper and Fry series. Blind to the Bones is the 4th, still early in the sequence of events, so that tension can be maintained with a degree of justification. However, I’m hoping there will be some kind of change through subsequent books, a sustainable progression, and not a constant continuation of the same or similar attitudes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musical Tastes of Fictional Characters (2)

In a previous post about the music enjoyed by fictional characters I mentioned a Waterboys reference in Stephen Booth’s  first book Black Dog. The reference is in fact in his second book, Dancing With the Virgins.

 

‘That was the river, this is the sea’

Ben Cooper turned up the volume on his stereo and opened the cover of his Waterboys CD. He was amazed to find it dated from 1985. In fact, most of the music he possessed was the stuff he had liked twelve or fifteen years ago as a teenager.

 

 

Musical Tastes of Fictional Characters

One thing I’m enjoying when I read Stephen Booth’s books is the occasional musical reference. It seems like his Detective Constable Ben Cooper (maybe even Booth himself?) shares my musical taste.

I think it was in Booth’s first book Black Dog* that Cooper listened to the Waterboys, and in the book I’m currently reading, Blind to the Bones, Cooper has borrowed another CD from my collection: Green Blade Rising by the Levellers.

Here’s a track from the album.

Ben Cooper poked around for a CD to play on the way back to Edendale in his Toyota. He found a recent Levellers album and was pleased by the title Green Blade Rising.

On the way out of the village, he noticed two men with a tractor and a length of rope near the pool in the river. Another man was standing in the water in PVC waders. He was already pretty well covered in duckweed as he struggled to attach the rope to one of the boards that floated on the surface of the pool.

‘Strange,’ said Cooper to himself. And he tapped his fingers to the Levellers as he drove out of Withens

 

____________________

see correction here

Blood on the Tongue, Stephen Booth

It was one of the worst sounds you could ever hear – the ticking of a clock in an empty house after its owner had died. It was a reminder that the world would carry on just the same after you had gone

blood on the tongue

This is the third book featuring DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry .

The author had this to say about his main characters in an interview not long after the release of the book:

Ben Cooper is the local lad, born and raised in the Peak District. He is from a farming background, but his father was a police sergeant, a local hero, whose mantel Ben has inherited, somewhat reluctantly. Everyone knows him, and he understands the minds of the local people. Diane Fry, on the other hand, is an outsider, who has arrived from a big city force. She is ambitious, not really interested in establishing new friendships, but in advancing her career. I suppose there is some gender role reversal, as Ben is the sensitive, intuitive one who cares about the people he comes across in his job, while Diane is much tougher and hard-edged. The relationship between the two of them surprised me a little as it developed.

In Blood on the Tongue, wartime and present day mysteries are woven together within the northern Derbyshire landscape. The “tongue” in the title is Irontongue Hill, the location of past and present tragedies.

A snowplough crew uncover the body of an unidentified man while they are clearing a mountain pass. What link is there between his murder and the crash of a Lancaster bomber during the second world war and the discovery 50 years later of a woman’s  body in sight of the plane’s remaining wreckage?

This book has a lot of elements that appeal to me: character relationships are as important as the plot development, the location is vividly portrayed and plays an important part of the story, and a strong mix of history and folklore blend with events of the present day. It is excellent story telling, increasing in complexity as the story develops, until several strands of seemingly unrelated events draw together into a logical and satisfying resolution.

I loved it.

Continuing my recent practice, I’m including this song from Bella Hardy from Edale, Derbyshire; only a few miles from the setting of the book. The images of scenery from that area are by Paul Pearson.

An interview with Stephen Booth, conducted just after the publication of Blood on the Tongue (the quote near the beginning of this post comes from the interview).
https://januarymagazine.com/profiles/sbooth.html

The Costs and Pitfalls of Book Buying.

I have far too many books – and still I buy more.

When I develop a new reading interest, or a new interest in general, I’m not satisfied to dabble around the edges, I jump right in and obtain as much as possible related to that interest.

In recent years I became interested in some aspects of military history. At first I just wanted to find out why Anzac day was such a big deal in Australia. Like many Australians, my knowledge and understanding of the Gallipoli campaign at the heart of Anzac day was minimal. As the centenary of the original Anzac day (25th April) came around in 2015, I decided to put an end to my ignorance and I read several books about the campaign that attained mythic status in Australian culture.

From there my curiosity about other aspects of WWI was sparked, and my reading widened to other battles and their historical consequences.

But that wasn’t enough. I moved on to WWII when I discovered some family involvement in the North Africa and Sicily campaigns of 1943.
I was able to untie some of my dad’s tangled childhood memories to find the facts behind the tragic loss of his cousins Albert and Horace during those campaigns; even being able to track a report of Horace’s desperate cries for help, followed by the sound of his drowning, after his glider crashed into the Mediterranean.

I sought out and bought as many books as I could find that might increase my knowledge of Albert and Horace’s experiences of war. A lot of the books were out of print so I needed to track down second hand copies. A helpful resource was https://www.bookfinder.com/

Through that site I was able to find books covering my topics of interest that have been long out of print. Unfortunately some were outside of my comfortable price range, but most weren’t.

As I’ve written in several recent posts, my current interest is crime fiction, a very popular genre with far too many reading options. The only way I could realistically launch myself into reading crime was to find someway to limit those options. I chose to be selective with the authors I read.

So far I’ve followed two paths. Firstly there are the two authors who helped me get into the world of crime in the first place. I’ve already written about Lynda La Plante and Ann Cleeves.
Secondly, because my greater interest has been fuelled by the strength of character and place in Cleeves’ books, I looked around for British writers basing their work around Derbyshire, the English county where I spent my pre-teen years. I’ve also written quite a lot about the three writers I’ve been following.

To date Sarah Ward has three published books, Steven Dunne seven, and Stephen Booth at least seventeen. It would be a very costly exercise to get all of them, so when available I’ve helped the process through purchases from charity and second hand book shops, while keeping an eye on the prices of new books in online stores. Occasionally books will be discounted and a little money can be saved if I’m viewing the right site at the right time.

book list 2Ideally I’d be able to find all of the books at a local bookshop, giving them support instead of some overseas mega-store, but they rarely (if ever) have the kind of books I want, that cater to my sometimes obscure tastes (how many Australian readers are looking for Derbyshire crime writers?).

I now own all of Sarah Ward’s books.

I have the first three of Steven Dunne’s books. The first I could only find second hand online, the second I bought new and the third I also found second hand in a Canberra bookshop.

Stephen Booth’s books have been a mixture of new purchases from The Book Depository , Some from charity shops and two I bought online through the book finder address cited earlier. Those latter purchases have been examples of the perils faced when buying used goods on line. When I received the books they weren’t the editions that had been illustrated (they were older) and their actual condition didn’t match that of the written description on the website.
Bringing the problems to the attention of the supplier doesn’t always lead to the customer finding a satisfactory outcome.*

After two disappointing experiences, I’m now reconsidering the buying of second hand books online unless they are completely out of print and can’t be obtained any other way. In the recent cases I only resorted to the second hand orders because the number of books in the Stephen Booth series pushed the overall cost of new ones into uncomfortable territory, and I was eager to get his earlier books for an affordable prices as soon as possible.

At the moment those early books are some of the more expensive, unless I compromised by buying American editions. However an American version of a Derbyshire book, with American spellings and the possible “translating” of Derbyshire turns of phrase into Americanised approximations… well it kind of defeats my purpose of choosing Derbyshire based stories.**

I’m resisting the temptation to order more books for a while.  Over the Christmas break I could be away from home from time to time, so won’t be around to make sure any book deliveries are received securely.

Anyway, I have more than enough crime fiction to keep me going for a few weeks before I need to order again in the new year.

Apart from filling in some of the existing gaps in my collection, next year there will be at least two new books to look forward to: Sarah Wards fourth DC Childs book The Shrouded Path is due for release in the UK autumn, but before that will be The Devil’s Dice, the debut book by Roz Watkins released around March 2018.

_____________________________________

The image illustrating this post is part of the book list I keep in my wallet to help me keep track of what I already have so I don’t double up on any title.

*Although one bookseller went above and beyond my expectations to sustain their reputation for good service – sending me a book autographed by the author as a replacement for a copy that had been an ex-library book and was marred by stickers and ink stamps)

 

** To keep things in balance, I have no problem buying American editions of books by American authors, where American-English is in keeping with the authors intent.