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by Stephen Booth
HarperCollins, June 2006
480 pages
ISBN: 0007172079

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The opening to Stephen Booth's SCARED TO LIVE is one of the most gripping I've read in a while. It's the early hours of the morning and Rose Shepherd is awake in her bedroom. We know she's not going to survive the chapter, and Booth, a master of atmosphere, cranks up the tension to the point where the reader is desperate to discover just who this woman with no past is.

Frustratingly, though, the pace then slackens off and while Booth is never less than engaging and readable as a writer, SCARED TO LIVE never quite delivers

After the explosive opening, the action cross-cuts to where DS Diane Fry and DC Gavin Murfin have been called to a house fire which has claimed the life of a mother and two children. The husband has survived, but the police start to wonder about his reaction to what happened and why people who should be able to answer questions are so unhelpful.

Booth juggles his two plots competently, as you'd expect, but in the end neither are quite strong enough and are perhaps sewn up too neatly. The previous books in the series have shown Booth to be a phenomenal writer when it comes to capturing the Peak District's own peculiar atmosphere. But at times I felt this was diluted in SCARED TO LIVE.

The Eastern European link is the new black when it comes to crime fiction at the moment. And while it's usually guaranteed to get me reading a book, the angle doesn't really gel here, although there are some intriguing scenes between Diane and Bulgarian detective Georgi Kotsev. Again, though, these don't quite pan out.

If you've kept up with this series, it's more of the same for the characters. Diane and Ben (who has family problems on his mind as usual) advance by about an inch, Gavin eats a lot, and that's about it. If you're new to Booth, go back and read the earlier books, or you won't have a clue what motivates the two leading characters.

Despite my misgivings about the series as a whole and this book in particular, it's still worth a read, if only because Booth is a skilled writer and also to witness him providing some rare throwaway humour along the way!

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, June 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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