Hello! I'm alive, I do still exist!
Sorry I've been pretty much absent lately. I've been watching lots of TV, and reading lots of books (I have about five book bingo reviews handwritten and good to post!) but mostly it's because my laptop is so old and cranky that I've reached the stage of not wanting to turn it on unless I know I'm going to be online for a couple of hours, because it takes so long to start up it's no longer worth it for short periods. However, I'm now on a mission to buy myself a tablet, so hopefully should be around a bit more in a week or so, once I've got that sorted. (I've been asking round my friends for recommendations, I'm hoping I can get some advice from you at the weekend, please, Fifi and Clea?).
Anyway, I won't post all the book reviews at once, but here's the first two. I'll stagger posting the others over the next week or so.
Black Dog, by Stephen Booth. Fills the 'set in your country or written by a local author' square.
Stephen Booth is a writer who lives in Nottingham, and his 'Cooper and Fry' series of crime novels is set in the Derbyshire Peak District, so considering I live right on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, the first book in his series seemed an obvious choice for this bingo square.
Crime isn't normally a genre I'm into, with the exception of the Strike novels that I discovered last year, but I was prompted into trying this one partly because it was such an obvious choice for for the bingo, but also because Stephen Booth came and gave a very interesting and entertaining talk at Nottingham Writers' Club last October, so his book series was fairly fresh in my mind.
Black Dog is the first in the 'Cooper and Fry' series (which now runs to 18 books, so I've got a way to go yet!). As I've said, I don't read a lot of crime, so I don't know how it compares in plot or style with others in the genre, but one thing that does set the series apart is that the two main characters aren't older, experienced, world-weary inspectors with a divorce and a drink problem in their private lives. Ben Cooper and Diane Fry are both young lowly detective constables, and as such they end up doing a lot of the 'grunt' work in the investigation. Booth actually said in his talk that this is one of the reasons why his books have done so well - it's actually far more realistic police procedure to have the junior officers doing that kind of leg work rather than a detective inspector.
I should probably mention the plot, which largely boils down to murdered girl, list of suspects, red herrings, unexpected evidence, etc. But to be honest, the plot wasn't what I enjoyed most about this book. Yes, in the latter half I couldn't put it down and was constantly trying to figure out who-done-it (unsuccessfully, I might add!), but the real star of the novel is the characters. Ben Cooper is a young, fairly idealistic local man who knows everyone and is generally very well respected. Unfortunately, his family life implodes quite spectacularly right at the same time that Diane Fry, hard, isolated, cynical and ruthless, transfers to the rural Peak District division, and from then on the two of them seem destined to clash, both professionally and personally. It's interesting, normally with TV crime dramas I like the two leads to have a good relationship - think Lewis and Hathaway in Lewis, or Cassie and Sunny in Unforgotten. So I was kind of willing Cooper and Fry to sort it out and start getting on together. But while they do actually work well as a team, there's always a complex layer of antagonism to their relationship.
The other characters - the suspects, witnesses, relatives, people peripheral to the investigation all feel like they could be real people. but you almost feel that there is another character in Booth's books - the Peak District itself, with its picturesque river valleys and moors and standing stones and small rural villages. The fact that I know the Peak District reasonably well and can visualise what he is describing adds and extra something.
In summary, I enjoyed it a lot. It took a little while to get going, but once it reached a certain point, about a third of the way through, I couldn't put it down until I got to the end. And after I finished it on the Monday, I went straight to the local library on the Tuesday and asked for book two.
Dancing With the Virgins, by Stephen Booth. Fills the 'mystery/crime/thriller' square.
This is book two in the 'Cooper and Fry' series, and is set only a few months after the events of Black Dog (although you don't really need to have read book one to follow this one). The antagonism between Ben and Diane seems to have thawed a little, but it's still not what you could call a harmonious working relationship. Ben's home life has settled down a little, but we find out a bit more about Diane's backstory. I sense there's a lot more to learn about both characters, and I'm continuing to live in hope that they might start to understand each other a bit more (another 16 books to go, so fingers crossed they will get there eventually!).
The plot rather ups the ante on book one, which only had one body - this has two bodies and two people attacked and badly injured. Again, one of the strengths of Booth's writing is the depth and complexity to all the characters, no matter how incidental or brief their appearance. And again the Derbyshire Peak District landscape plays a huge role, particularly the Nine Virgins prehistoric stone circle (the 'Virgins' of the title).
It was another enjoyable book, again starting a little slowly but really picking up and becoming un-put-downable in the second half. I actually did start harbouring suspicions about the identity of the killer with about a hundred pages still to go (it's fairly hefty at over 500 pages), but there was one revelation that I really didn't see coming.
I will definitely be reading more of the Cooper and Fry books, but having read books one and two back to back in a fairly short time I want a change of genre for a bit. That said, I recently found book three in a charity shop for £1, so I've got it for when I fancy dipping back into the next investigation for Edendale E Division.
lj book bingo card 2019
2019 reading list 3 books read in 2019 (it's actually about 6, but I've only posted reviews for 3 so far!)