Black Dog by Stephen Booth

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18750556

Series: Cooper & Fry #1

Kindle Edition, 531 pages

Published: October 8, 2013 by Witness Impulse (1st published January 1, 2000)

Setting: Derbyshire, England

Literary Awards: Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel (2001), Anthony Award Nominee for Best First Mystery (2001)

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Fifteen-year-old Laura Vernon, the beautiful daughter of wealthy parents, has disappeared. As helicopters hover over the area, searching for the missing girl, Detective Constable Ben Cooper helps search the thick foliage below. The Vernons, viewed with suspicion by the working class community around them, wait for news.

Laura’s body is found in the woods by retired miner and World War II veteran Harry Dickinson and his black Labrador.. Along with the rest of his department, including enigmatic newcomer Detective Constable Diane Fry, Cooper searches for the murderer.

Living in the shadow of his father, a detective sergeant killed in the line of duty, and struggling with family troubles, Cooper finds this to be a frustrating case. He believes Dickinson knows more than he is revealing. He also faces a bevy of other suspects, including the Vernons, about whom the investigation uncovers sordid secrets.

This outstanding debut novel proved to be quite a page turner. Booth artfully intertwines scenes from various points of view, creating intriguing cliffhangers, cleverly strewn clues, and mounting suspense. His rich descriptions of the setting, which take us through England’s Peak District, help create suspense and an eerie mood and provide a strong sense of place. At times, the author’s descriptions of the setting are laid on too heavily, disrupting the pace of the story. I also found some of the shifts in point of view somewhat awkward. However, this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the novel. I also loved the fact that elements of local folklore, including the eponymous black dog, were woven into the story.

I was also enamored with the colorful local characters and dialogue — I particularly enjoyed the proud and taciturn Harry Dickinson. Watching police detectives’ efforts to wheedle information out of him was pure pleasure.

I had difficulty warming up to the two protagonists, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry. I didn’t find either of them likable, and I didn’t like their relationship. However each of them became increasingly interesting and complex, and I found myself gradually being drawn into these characters and their complicated relationship. They have the potential to get better as the series progresses.

Overall this novel is well crafted and rich with local color, with an increasingly dark, eerie mood and deepening suspense. I plan to read the rest of this series. This is an excellent choice for readers who enjoy both character-driven and procedural mysteries.

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