Thursday, July 09, 2009

Black Dog by Stephen Booth

Title: Black Dog
Author: Stephen Booth
ISBN: 0671786040, Pocket Books, 2001
Genre: Police Procedural, #1 Cooper & Fry mystery
Rating: B+

First Line: The sudden glare of colors beat painfully on the young woman's eyes as she burst from the back door of the cottage and hurled herself into the brightness.

Welcome to Edendale, a village in the Peak District of England. Edendale is home to Constable Ben Cooper, an officer with a bright future who nevertheless worries that he will never be able to fill the shoes of his father, a police sergeant who died in the line of duty in Ben's own precinct. Ben relies a great deal on intuition and leaps of logic in his work.

New to the Edendale Police is Diane Fry, a very ambitious young woman on the fast track to promotion. She relies on good, solid investigative work that follows the rules. She's aloof, prickly and more than a little tired of the fact that the people living there tell her nothing while they all treat Ben Cooper like a beloved son.

Not exactly the most promising start to any sort of partnership, is it?

Ben and Diane find themselves thrown together more often than not when 15-year-old Laura Vernon is found murdered. Like Diane, Laura and her parents are outsiders, outsiders that the villagers have never been very friendly toward. Booth has about the best description of how people think in an insular community, and it reminds me of why I no longer live in one:

Yes, you only really knew people when you knew everything about them. You needed to know it all-- from the exact moment they had been conceived in the long grass behind the village hall to the first word they had spoken, and the contents of their fifth-form school reports. You needed to know what size shoes they wore, how much money they owed the credit card company, when their bout of chicken pox had been, and which foot had the ingrowing toenail. You had to know who their first sexual encounter had been with, what brand of condom they had used, and whether the experience had been satisfactory. Now that was knowing somebody.

In a village that thinks that way, Diane Fry has her work cut out for her. Actually the entire police force has its work cut out for it because Harry Dickinson, the old man who found Laura's body, is a close-mouthed, cantankerous soul who knows more than he's telling. What is it that Harry knows? Why do none of the villagers like the Vernons? Why is Laura's father determined to pin his daughter's murder on the gardener he's just fired?

I found Booth's depiction of the Peak District very atmospheric...almost chilling. The plot was satisfyingly convoluted and had a very deliberate pace. In fact the pace of the story reminded me a great deal of Harry Dickinson, the old man with a lot to say but who wasn't going to say it until he was damned good and ready. While the plot marched on, I got to know Ben and Diane a bit better. Ben is the intuitive one, the one who has heavy family responsibilities, and he's also prone to bouts with the "black dog"-- slang for depression. Diane is the anti-social one. The one who knows how to dress, how to behave and what to say in order to be promoted, but one who wants to keep everyone at arm's length. Although I found all the prickliness tiresome at first, once Booth began telling us their back stories, I was willing to set that impatience aside and enjoy the story more.

Enjoy it I did. The setting, the plot, the deliberate pacing, and the characters all combined to make me not pay close attention to the clues Booth planted all along the way. When the murderer's identity was revealed, my reaction wasn't one of shock but one of "Well of course that's who it was!" Not only that, but by book's end I fully came to appreciate the title of the book. In Black Dog, Stephen Booth has laid the foundation for an excellent mystery series. I look forward to reading more.


  1. I just so happened to pick this up in the library on a whim. I had a bit of a time getting into it at first, but I thoroughly enjoyed it once I had a quiet moment to really savor it. I liked the title as well. I had never heard of that saying, black dog on your back. But it makes sense, doesn't it?

  2. I love a mystery like that - where it's not too obvious, but you're not shocked by the reveal either. I find the cover of that book rather creepy.

  3. Christy--Yes, that phrase is very descriptive. Thanks for stopping by!

    Kathy--I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds that cover a bit creepy!

  4. This is absolutely one of my favorite series, and it all starts with this book. Excellent read!

  5. Gwen--Thanks for stopping by! It's good to hear that this is one of your favorite series. :)


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