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by Stephen Booth
HarperCollins, September 2007
408 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0007243421

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

There's no one to touch Stephen Booth when it comes to creating and drawing the reader into his dark, sombre world, and DYING TO SIN pulls the reader straight into the richly atmospheric setting of the starkly-named Pity Wood Farm.

Jamie Ward is a student trying to earn some money, but working on a farm that's being renovated by a team of migrant workers is turning out to be a slog. And then Jamie unearths a human hand. The police swarm all over the tumbledown site and find two bodies.

It turns out to be a cold case to end them all, and DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper find the locals to be less than helpful. And the arrival of a new female Superintendent with career climbing shining in her eyes puts the pressure on them to get a result.

Booth, a former journalist, has a sharp eye for a story in the news. The series has always kept pace with changes in the police force as well as what's happening in the newspapers. This time out we have the migrant workers scarcely made welcome but doing the jobs the locals don't want to do. And there's a reference, too, to a farmer 'diversifying' by killing off and burying greyhounds (yes, based on a true story!)

DYING TO SIN is thoughtful, complex and utterly engrossing. How I resisted peeking to see what happened, I'll never know! And the final scenes in winter fog are decidedly spooky. Parallel to the well-plotted crime fiction story are deeper themes, including that of families, with Ben feeling more and more remote from his brother Matt and the struggling family farm, and Diane trying to deal with sister Angie who looks like she's back on drugs.

And while Booth has always captured to perfection the bleak and insular Peak District, this book delves deeper into village life and some very gruesome traditions! You can't fault Booth for his observation thus: "Well, things went back a tidy way in these parts. Two thousand years? That was just middlin' old."

As usual Ben and Diane are like satellite planets, destined to circle each other forever with no chance of ever interacting. And in the past I've felt that the characters have threatened to fall into a rut, with very little growth for either of them. This time, though, they're about to be jolted out of their comfort zones.

This excellent book ends with much for Booth to do next time out and promises to reinvigorate an already strong series.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, August 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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