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The Dead Place    by Stephen Booth order for
Dead Place
by Stephen Booth
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2009 (2005)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Stephen Booth writes noir police procedurals with a moody, psychological flavor, starring detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry in the northern England Peak District. The series is unusual in that the woman is the senior officer and has the difficult personality. Ben seems much easier to get along with. And, although there is clearly a degree of attraction on both sides, Booth tantalizes his readers with it - if it ever materializes, this will be a long drawn-out affair.

The cover introduces the story well with 'Murder is in the air ...' But it turns out that corpses are scarce, though the novel explores death from many angles - from a funeral directors' business and an Internet Death Clock to sarcophagi and a professor of thanatology. The police start receiving messages about a killing coming soon, and the caller is clearly obsessed with 'the scent of death', its anticipation and progression. He calls from public phones on the fringes of funeral services and speaks of the 'dead place' (the case, assigned to Diane, particularly disturbs her as it brings back horrific memories of a murdered child, whose body she discovered when still in uniform.) Then, a woman disappears from a multi-level car park.

Ben is already investigating a cold case, the remains of a middle aged Caucasian female found in the woods of Ravensdale. The forensic artist who developed an image from the skull names her Jane Raven Lee. After they discover that there's been some sleight of hand going on with corpses, Ben is dispatched to collect samples of cremated remains, and discovers an odd (and morbidly funny) variety of disposals amongst the relatives of the dead who have the cremains. There's an interesting sideline on geocachers, who leave and search for odd collections of items in wild places, but overall this becomes an enquiry with 'too many dead ends' and a surprising resolution.

Though I found The Dead Place interesting and unusual, it developed slowly and didn't grab my interest to the same extent as Blind to the Bones. But I enjoy the characters and setting (the sense of place is very strong in this series) enough to stay with Ben Cooper and Diane Fry. I look forward to whatever comes next for them.

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