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by Stephen Booth
HarperCollins Canada, April 2010
362 pages
$34.99 CAD
ISBN: 0007243480

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is, I believe, the tenth novel to feature that less-than-perfect pair of coppers, Diane Fry and Ben Cooper. In it, Stephen Booth takes a new tack, separating the two, sending Diane off to Birmingham as the result of the possible re-opening of a cold rape case in which she was the victim and leaving Ben, newly made up to acting Detective Sergeant in her absence, to wind up the investigation into what appears to have been the accidental drowning of an eight-year-old girl in a shallow brook.

If anything, Ben is even less self-confident than normal in Diane's absence. On a warm Bank Holiday along the Dove River, he sees a little girl drown but is unable to save her. The incident shakes him profoundly, making him doubt his own ability to observe and causing him to become involved with the child's family more deeply than his superior officer thinks altogether wise.

Meanwhile, Diane Fry is away, back in Birmingham where she had been the victim of a gang rape some years previously. When it becomes clear that the case is unlikely to be prosecuted, she enlists her family - her sister Angie, her foster brother Vincent - to help her make sense of the whole incident. Ironically, neither she nor Ben, trained police officers, proves a more reliable witness than your average passer-by.

It would not surprise me to find that Booth is losing interest in this series. Too much of the book is given over to potted descriptions of the architectural changes in Birmingham over the last decade or of quaint rural survivals in the Derbyshire countryside - the Royal Ashbourne Shrovetide Football game, involving hundreds and lasting till Ash Wednesday, for example. There is also considerable exposition of the various abbreviations and acronyms characteristic of contemporary policing and of the equally arcane net language known as "leet." A rather damp sense of melancholy broods over the proceedings despite the bright weather, a feeling of incompleteness and frustration even when both cases are finally unravelled.

Faithful fans of the series will certainly want to check LOST RIVER out to see where the author is taking his troubled protagonists as well as to gain information about where they've been. But readers new to the series would be advised to start much earlier, back to BLACK DOG if possible, to see why this series has been so durable and so justly praised.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, July 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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