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This review is from: Blind to the Bones (Hardcover)
Two years ago, student Emma Renshaw disappeared while on her way home from university. Now, a new discovery in the remote countryside prompts the police to reinvestigate the case. But, Diane Fry, in charge of the investigation, finds herself with a hard task made even worse by Emma's parents, who are still expecting their daughter to be found.
They have been pestering the police and her friends ever since her disappearance, note the time of every phone-call just in case it is Emma, keep her car ready and waiting in the garage, and retain all of her Christmas presents in her bedroom - not touched since she left - upstairs.
Eventually, Diane's search leads her to the dark, isolated village of Withens, where she runs into Ben Cooper, who has been temporarily seconded to the Rural Crime Squad, and is investigating both a series of burglaries and a vicious murder. A young man has been battered and left for dead up on the moors, left for the crows to find, and Ben finds nothing but a wall of silence.
The man is a relative of the Oxleys, the oldest family in the area, descended from the very first men who buried under the moors to build the railways tunnels for 3 miles under the moors. But the Oxleys are a secretive family, protective of their own, and they refuse to talk to Ben, an outsider. Thus, progress on the investigation is almost nil. And, to compound Ben's problems, Diane Fry's sister, who ran off when they were teenagers, turns up out of the blue, seeking his help. She wants him to convince Diane to stop looking for, to forget her private investigations and leave things be. With the two officers' relationship tense and fragile at best, this is a shift in the dynamic which could easily destroy it altogether.
Stephen Booth has, within the space of only four novels, safely joined the impressive ranks of Reginald Hill and Peter Robinson as England's most accomplished northern crime novelists. This series, set mostly on and around the remote moors of Derbyshire, has everything. The plots are cracking and clever, paced and patterned masterfully, and the writing is very good indeed, but the most powerful feature of the series is Booth's atmospheric evocation of place, which is dark and brooding and brilliant.
The moors become terrifying, ominous and eerie, yet they also retain a dark beauty which draws the reader right in. And that ability to create atmosphere is displayed more strongly than ever in this fourth book, and all throughout the book he comes up with some excellent reflections of the gradual decay of the moors. The village of Withens, shrinking and dying; the forgotten churchyard, overgrown and tangled with weeds; the long-established family slowly finding themselves rent asunder.
Booth also has a great aptitude for character. His minor characters are as fascinating and well-developed as his two leads, who themselves possibly make up the most interesting duo on the scene in crime fiction. The relationship between Cooper and Fry is complex and compelling, its shifts and undercurrents have a way of making the reader slightly nervous.
The tension between the two is palpable, and the obviousness of the fact that they do care about one another, on various levels, often has the reader imploring them to take a step back and just listen to one another properly just for a change. To be honest, I doubt there is another relationship with as great a dynamic and level of interest in all the crime genre. The series is worth reading just for the shifts and changes and subtle nuances in the pair's attitude toward one another.
Stephen Booth has won the Barry award for Best British novel two years running, and, with the fact that Blind to the Bones is the strongest novel yet in this powerful series, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he snatches it for a well-deserved third time.