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by Stephen Booth
HarperCollins, May 2005
400 pages
ISBN: 0007172052

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Don't even think about reading Stephen Booth's THE DEAD PLACE if you're feeling the slightest bit down. This is a book to be read on a sunny beach with copious amounts of good food and drink to hand.

And if you're a newcomer to Booth, don't bother starting with this book either -- go back to the beginning. The interaction between the characters will make no sense at all if you haven't read any of the earlier books in the series.

Booth's world is a dark and scary place to be -- and the title of the book tells you all you need to know about its content. In a nutshell, the police are receiving bizarre gothicky phonecalls from someone threatening a murder. A firm of undertakers looks to be linked to what's going on. And just what do the skeletons being discovered on remote hillsides have to do with anything?

The two seemingly unrelated plots mean that one of crime fiction's most mismatched couples, DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper can spend the book circling each other and occasionally clashing. So yes, it's more of the same and I still can't decide if there's much in the way of worthwhile character development for the protagonists. Diane is as infuriating as ever, and Ben's as wet as a weekend in Buxton. Same old, same old, then.

Diane's sister Angie is still around, but takes a backseat role. And, as ever, you don't read Booth for positive female characters of any sort. But there's rather more of light relief this time in the bulky form of DC Gavin Murfin, who has decided to buck his ideas up or face going back into uniform. And the character of Jarvis, the morose bloke with a garden full of old cars, is a dry, understated delight.

So if you want outstanding world building and superior plotting, read Booth. Don't expect a laugh a minute, though. The bleak UK Peak District is very much a character in its own right, just as London was for Dickens, and the stories are often rooted in folklore.

My rapid page-turning with THE DEAD PLACE might just be a mix of wanting to know what happened and also to get to the end of a very grim book quicker! But it's a tribute to Booth's writing that I've stuck with a series where I feel no affinity with any of the characters.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, May 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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