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Dancing with the Virgins: A Constable Ben Cooper Novel    by Stephen Booth order for
Dancing with the Virgins
by Stephen Booth
Order:  USA  Can
Pocket, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Dancing with Virgins continues a mystery series focusing on British police detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry. Since the British mystery field is almost as crowded as the American one, new readers may wonder why they should try this series rather than others. One's reading time, alas, is limited. However Booth's choice of location and his characters - especially the detective team - warrant attention.

Both the first and second books are set in the northern England Peaks district rather than any of the metropolitan areas or the cosier, southern villages. The setting functions almost as a character in these books. The Black Cat gave us small, almost claustrophobic villages where everyone knows everyone else's business. In Dancing with the Virgins, the action occurs in and around Ringham Moor, part of the national park. A sense of wild loneliness and danger permeates the book, coming from both physical surroundings and the emotional lives of the characters.

Local Ben Cooper (son of a well-loved police officer killed on duty) and prickly outsider and loner Diane Fry continue to be paired together. They investigate a brutal attack and then a murder on the moor. As they dig into the murder they encounter a cast of well-developed characters including a sullen and despairing farmer about to lose his farm and the traumatized first victim Maggie Crew.

Both Ben and Diane are very nicely drawn. Ben brings a strong need to save people to the job, while Diane is still recovering from a damaged childhood and a more recent rape. She is not about to let Ben or anyone else breach the barriers she has built. But when Diane works with Maggie Crew to help her recall details of her attack, there are many resonances with Diane's own past life.

Booth's writing is not yet in the ranks of great British authors like Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin or Deborah Crombie. However, he displays all the necessary skills and his mysteries are reminiscent of their earlier books. His third wonderfully named Blood on the Tongue is now out, and on my short list.

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