Stephen Booth is the author of a series of detective novels of which Lost River is the tenth in the series. It is possible to read this as a standalone novel, though it does help to have some background knowledge. His books are all set in the Derbyshire area he knows and loves so well, using the rugged Peak district landscape as a dark and sometime bleak backdrop to his books, which tend to inspire a brooding menace to each one I've read so far. His books feature the characters of a local man, Detective Constable Ben Cooper and Detective Sergeant Diane Fry, whose transfer from her Birmingham background initially affected Ben Cooper's career in a bad way.
At the start of this book Cooper and Fry have reached a good stable working relationship, which leads to a harmonious partnership. Ben Cooper previously lived on his family's farm, but since moving into the more central town of Edendale, he's become more of a friend as well as a colleague to Diane.
But on a May Bank Holiday Monday Ben watches helplessly as an eight-year-old girl tragically drowns in the River Dove. Despite an attempt to rescue her, the girl has been in the water too long and all Ben can do is hold her limp and lifeless body out of the water. Traumatized he calls Diane who is in the middle of a stakeout that goes down wrong. But there is more trouble than that for both of them when a case closely concerning Diane comes up in Birmingham. With Diane called back to her roots in Birmingham and Ben still wondering if the drowning was really an accident, the pressure is on them both.
Background to a Mystery.
With Booth's books the main plot is usually one with branches going off in different directions so trying to review a book without plot spoilers can be difficult to say the least. With this one having the two main characters working on other cases in different places, the story develops on parallel lines. Cooper is suspicious of the dead girl's family. The Neild family has a history of problems and a runaway daughter is the tip of the iceberg. Ben is told to leave it alone, but this is something he cannot easily do.
Diane has an even tougher task to face. Many years ago she was a young officer in a district of Birmingham when she became the victim of a gang rape, something she never really recovered from. Now it appears there is new evidence and she's called back to her old force to face this challenge. As a child she was in care with her older sister Angie, and spent most of her youth passed from one foster home to another. Now back in her hometown she also faces her other demons, that of lost family and bitter memories. So although the plot seems to be a mixture, it actually works out well with both characters using their instincts in separate cases that have family problems as the common denominator.
With two strong characters there is bound to be some overlap and Ben has issues around his own family, especially as he left the working farm to his older brother but still feels closeness to the land. He's an honest man with a conscience that often gets in the way of his better instincts. Despite being good at his job he is perhaps too honest to rise through the ranks, or so we have been lead to think up until now.
Diane is much more complicated with a background bound to affect her deeply. She is a good officer and a fair colleague but a tendency to do things her own way leads to problems with her safety, as well a discipline issue. Earlier books touched on her past, but this book develops that theme in a much more personal way. She feels loyal to her sister, yet is also aware of her own loyalty to her one set of foster parents. The situation brings in many other characters on both sides and some vicious killers who are ready to do anything to cover up what really happened so many years ago.
For Ben the past intrudes on the present and in this book the reader sees how the long-term relationship could go for both him and Diane. Before that they both have to deal with the present and if it means sometimes doing things outside the law then that's the way it must be. This makes for an interesting read with enough action for most readers, although there is little detecting and more in the way of chasing down leads that invariably end in trouble.
Some books are action packed with bullets flying and dead bodies turning up all over the place. Some are thrillers in the true sense of the word, with plots that keep the reader guessing. For me Booth's books have a third type that tends to fall in-between the two. I can always find something fresh in his books and I love the landscape of his books with the descriptive elements only adding to the atmosphere even on a bright summer day. Booth knows the area well and his narrative is full of the edgy aura of darkness. I have visited some of the places in his books and found them strangely familiar, probably since they are drawn from real places.
Of course you don't have to move from your armchair to feel the brooding mystery of the place, the author draws you deeply into the mysterious places and it's sometime sinister inhabitants. The place names conjure up a picture of moorland and secret places, hills and valleys where dark deeds have taken place long ago, leaving echoes down the centuries. I find his books are very different to my normal reading matter and probably would appeal more to male readers, though women love a good thriller as well. The pace may be a bit slower in these books as well, but that is because each is packed with meaning and reads like a dream.
Highly recommended by me, this gets five stars for atmosphere, plotting and character.
My copy was a library book and a new one. You can add this to your collection for about £2.99 new and £4.99 for the Kindle version. Or visit the author's page for special offers and downloads.
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