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by Stephen Booth
HarperCollins, June 2004
496 pages
ISBN: 0007172028

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Stephen Booth is probably the best plotter and the best atmospheric writer in UK crime writing today. His books are squarely rooted in Derbyshire's Peak District where, amidst the pretty tourist towns, there are remote villages trying to scratch out a living in the harsh terrain.

ONE LAST BREATH is no exception. This time, Detective Sergeant Diane Fry and Detective Constable Ben Cooper find themselves trying to track down a released killer who has gone to ground in this bleak landscape of caves and valleys and hills. Mansell Quinn served 14 years in prison for murdering his mistress. He is released -- but almost immediately his former wife Rebecca is found dead, despite a new identity and a seemingly secure house.

Fry and Cooper, who probably qualify for the most mismatched partnership ever, discover that Quinn's former friends and acquaintances are a particularly charmless bunch who don't seem in the least concerned that they may well be next on the hit-list.

Speaking of charmless, those two lead characters have always been the biggest sticking point when it comes to my wholehearted admiration of the series. Diane is abrasive and prickly and comes with a pantechnicon of personal baggage; Ben is as wet as a weekend in Manchester and has a tendency to drift through the books like he's on a day trip from Planet Zog.

ONE LAST BREATH is the fifth in the series, and it feels like Diane and Ben are stuck on the same repeat cycle of misunderstanding, inability to communicate and the faintest trace of trust (don't blink -- you might miss it!) Very little new happens between them to progress their bizarre relationship, even with the addition of Diane's long-lost sister Angie to the unstable mix.

If you're new to the series, don't start with ONE LAST BREATH, or you may well wonder what distant universe you've landed on! You need the early books for the vital back history. BLIND TO THE BONES, newly out in paperback, is the best so far.

I am amazed to admit that ONE LAST BREATH dragged in places, and that's something Booth can't usually be accused of. The start is particularly slow, and were it not for the fact I have faith in Booth as someone who will keep the reader hooked, I might have struggled to finish the book.

So I admire Booth's writing hugely, can picture every minute detail of the stunning setting, and would give anything to be able to plot like him. But I wish I liked his characters more.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, July 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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