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Black Dog    by Stephen Booth order for
Black Dog
by Stephen Booth
Order:  USA  Can
Pocket, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

For a confirmed Anglophile who has read all the Elizabeth George, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell books, it is always a great pleasure to discover another British mystery writer. Stephen Booth's first offering is a welcome addition to the genre, and its author promises to provide many hours of reading pleasure. Black Dog was nominated for several prizes, and Booth's second novel, Dancing with the Virgins, was short-listed for Britain's Gold Dagger award.

The story is set in the deceptively beautiful and picturesque villages and countryside of northern England's Peak District. Fair-haired local Ben Cooper, son of a beloved policeman killed on duty, is teamed with newcomer Diane Fry. This is not a match made in heaven. Both have the 'black dog' of depression on their shoulders. Fry is still recovering from a violent attack at her previous posting, while Ben carries the heavy burden of family problems. With her cold, abrasive and career-driven behavior, Fry is not an especially sympathetic female character, and this gives her an interesting depth.

Fry and Cooper are assigned as a team to investigate the murder of 15-year old Laura Vernon, the precociously sexy daughter of an affluent family, whose body was found in the woods. Booth skillfully evokes the closed and secretive atmosphere of small villages and the resentment of poor villagers for rich newcomers like the Vernons. As the inquiry proceeds, we learn many sordid details about the Vernons and about many other village residents, all of which provides more than enough motive for murder.

Booth has created unusually rich characters in Fry and Cooper, and their prickly working relationship promises to be one of the more fascinating ones in detective fiction. If subsequent novels continue in this superior vein, this author may eventually rank with Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson.

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