Award winning Black Dog by @StephenBooth – a Thursday #Review
Black Dog (A Cooper & Fry Mystery) by Stephen Booth
The helicopters are halted. The search for fifteen-year-old Laura Vernon ends when her body is found, murdered, in the forest.
On his hunt for the killer, detective Ben Cooper begins to suspect the people of Derbyshire are guarding some dark secrets-secrets that Laura might have known. Further complicating his investigation, Cooper is paired with an unfamiliar partner: Diane Fry, a woman as tenacious as she is alluring. Together they learn that in order to understand the town’s present, they must unearth its past.
Black Dog is like Twin Peaks by way of Tana French, and the first novel in the multiple award-winning Cooper and Fry series.
I had a discussion over a book a few weeks ago, an argument really, and my side was “I can still love the book even if I hate the characters, even if they are the main characters”. This one almost pushed me to their side of the argument.
I had to stop a lot in the first 100-pages of the book and remind myself “It is British procedural.. it is a British procedural crime novel that won a bunch of awards… you like British crime novels.. channel Robbie Cultrane (Cracker)” What is the difference? It is a very significant difference, especially if you are someone who reads crime/mystery & procedural novels.
I have read a couple this year from UK authors, particularly Cold Killing by Luke Delaney (read my review) which involve the psyche of the people not just the procedural aspects of the case. Comparing these to US books in the same genre? You just can’t and you do need to be a dedicated fan, in my opinion or someone who (like I do) loves British TV. Brits focus on the people more than the crimes, sure it is important but the approach to the genre is different. Just keep that in mind as I blather on!
There are several characters in this book, and not all of them are human or even singularly of flesh in blood. As you can read from the description there is Cooper and Fry. I was drawn with the possible mash-up of Twin Peaks meets Tana French (love her books). I kind of can see some of Fry’s reactions to the “country” likened to Agent Coopers in the first couple of episodes to the denizens of the Peaks, but Fry was… over the top in a different way.
Honestly, I see more of Mulder and Scully minus the X-factor. Agent Cooper is no way like either DC Cooper in Black Dog… maybe a bit like Fry, in as the parts the Agent Cooper infuriated the town of Twin Peaks, Fry did her part here, especially in the first half. I certainly wanted to throttle her. But Fry was nasty to DC Cooper and this was somewhat if a distraction, and possibly a well played one from the author *winking*.
But here is where it gets tricky, as I sit here distracting you with all these “clever” images. *giggling manically* So who is the protagonist? Cooper and Fry? Meh, I am going to argue this within these pages, especially the first half, the protagonist is the dead girl… Laura!!!!
Gotcha! Hey don’t blame me for going overboard, the person who wrote the synopsis did it to me! But ya, Laura is not really the lead character, like Palmer in Twin Peaks and as funny as Laura Vernon is also named Laura as we read her life slowly unfolds much like it did in the show. She certainly was a leading lady, even one who was missing a slipper (aka Trainer). Did she have a bit of a Cinderella complex? No it was ‘Ella and her three step sisters in a mash-up with … oh dear… nope, if I say anymore it will be a spoiler, and you know how I feel about spoilers! And if I told you, I would have to serve you to a certain old Billy I met in the book (ohh dear, that was in REAL bad taste… sorry guys)
But that brings me to the point of protagonists. This novel is establishing who Cooper and Fry are for the remainder of the series, (there are 12 in all). Warning: you won’t like Fry at first, at all.. in fact you may want to beat her with a cricket bat at times, but give her a chance, seriously. Go ahead, imagine her being attacked by angery geese with glee while you read, but I promise in the end you will have her solidly in your like realm. Cooper, the one who we are suppose to feel compassion for, he is built up to be the town hero, when in turn, like Mulder he has a past and a secret family life we only learn about because we get to read about it. We start endearing our self to Fry/Scully starts learning the hard way just what these secrets are. As she does, you start not hating her as much, at least I did because… you start learning her secrets which you learn along with Cooper. The relationship building is paramount, so give it the time it needs.
Speaking of time, and the reason why I am not throwing five stars at this… I am not sure I bought the necessity of the TELL instead of SHOW descriptions. There really was to much telling when it came to Fry, and not a lot of showing. Because it was more to do with Fry than anyone else I am wondering if this was a story device? But it went WAY to far for me. By page 150 I wanted to kill someone. Fry’s descriptions of her carpet down to the swirls of blah blah blah… ya I get why we needed to know what her dang carpet was like, but it was like this for everything. I get the need for establishing the two personality types, but Fry was over the top. Cooper’s point of view was written from a showing perspective, not a telling. Again, on purpose? It just bothered me. Cooper’s emotional approach balancing Fry’s need for by the book. (Are you starting to see why I saw Mulder and Scully… ya ya ya I know I miss the show, perhaps I am a bit obsessed but I seriously kept thinking about the comparisons as I read through this.) Anyway, this was my biggest complaint and it starts growing on you and as she starts to endear herself to Cooper she actually starts, or he starts writing her doing it less… ARGH!
But what are those other characters I am speaking about? I mentioned the murdered girl, Fry and Cooper… well, Harry. Here is when Mr. Booth shows his ass, and I mean his holy-crap-this-man-can-write-a-mystery- to-screw-with-your-head, ass. He truly is an exquisite story weaver and mystery writer. There are so many layers to this book it will have all you Fischer Price Sherlock Holmes wanna-bes squealing with glee.
The whole village as a macro-organism is a character, the dog is not only a character but is a metaphor for the underlying mystery. Even the damn Billy Goat is a character, and a very important one.(probably the most disturbing scene for me because of it’s symbolism. Jessica Lay you have to HAVE to read it just for this bit, because you are just as odd as me.) Heck even the chickens and geese play an important part. I wish I could say more, but again.. spoilers. Just know you probably should keep notes.
So… want to go find out what happens in the shadow of The Mount? Have an ale at the local pub, Drovers with the old boys? Find out just why I did another ramble about and confused you even more? You really should take your time to read the book, it is only $2.99 on Kindle , it is so not a weekend read, this is a … take a week off to read the book. Or just accept the fact this book needs to be taken in chunks. I could not read it in one sitting, I had to read it about 50-75 pages at time because there was so much to digest.
If you love really good British police and crime procedural like Cracker, Wire in the Blood or Waking the Dead heck even Doc Martin, you will enjoy this book. (I bring in Doc Martin because the descriptions of the village and surrounding areas remind me of where Doc Martin is shot, heck evne some of his reactions remind me of Fry’s). If you are a fan of Kathy Reich style procedural, you will probably be disappointed. This is not as light as Kathy’s Bones, this one is much more dense. I highly recommend this book for a mystery has layers upon mysteries within mysteries, and folks who adore a long series with characters to fall in love with. They are already written guys, this is just the first one (see below.)
8 out of 10
Black Dog is actually an UK originally published book and marked the arrival in print of his best known creations – two young Derbyshire police detectives, DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry. The release in the Black Dog was the named by the London Evening Standard as one of the six best crime novels of the year – the only book on their list written by a British author. In the USA, it won the Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel and was nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Mystery.
The Ben Cooper & Diane Fry series re-launched in the USA on October 8th and I am so excited because as a series reader who is always impatiently waiting for the next one, I get to grab this one each month till August of 2014 and I will be caught up!
Meet the Author
Stephen Booth is an award winning British crime writer, the creator of two young Derbyshire police detectives, DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry, who have appeared in twelve novels set in England’s beautiful and atmospheric Peak District.
Stephen has been a Gold Dagger finalist, an Anthony Award nominee, twice winner of a Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel, and twice shortlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year. Ben Cooper was a finalist for the Sherlock Award for the best detective created by a British author, and in 2003 the Crime Writers’ Association presented Stephen with the Dagger in the Library Award for “the author whose books have given readers the most pleasure”.
The Cooper & Fry series is published all around the world, and has been translated into 15 languages. The latest title is DEAD AND BURIED, with a new book, ALREADY DEAD, published in June 2013.
For more information about the author and his work:
Read an excerpt:
The spot where Ben Cooper stood was remote and isolated. A passing walker wouldn’t have been able to see him up here among the bracken, even if he’d bothered to look up.Cooper turned round, wafting his hand across his face against the flies. He was looking through the trees and thick brambles as if towards the end of a dark tunnel, where the figure of Harry Dickinson was framed in a network of branches. Cooper had to squint against a patch of dazzling light that soaked the hillside in strong colours. The old man stood in the glare of the low sun, with hot rocks shimmering around him like a furnace. The haze of heat made his outline blur and writhe, as if he were dancing a slow shimmy. His shadow, flung across the rocks, seemed to wriggle and jerk as its shape fragmented among the bracken and brambles.
The expression in Harry’s eyes was unreadable, his face lying partly in the shade from the peak of his cap. Cooper couldn’t even tell which way he was looking, whether he’d turned away or was staring directly towards him in the trees. He wanted to grab the old man by the shoulders and shake him. He wanted to tell him that somebody had disturbed this spot, and recently. The evidence was right there for anyone to see, and to smell.
There had been two people here, and at least one of them had been looking for more than just rabbits. The smell that lingered under the trees was of stale blood. And the flies had found something even more attractive than Cooper’s sweat to feed on.