STEPHEN BOOTH – Scared to Live. HarperCollins, UK, hardcover, 2006; Bantam, US, hc, May 2008.

      —, Dying to Sin, 2007. HarperCollins, UK, hc, Sept 2007.

STEPHEN BOOTH Scared to Love

   I’m not going to mince words about the latest installment in this British rural procedural series: it’s far too long for the interest it generates in its investigation, of the murder of a middle-aged woman who turns out not to be what she seems to be.

   Booth has always reveled in details about the region but the protracted and not really very interesting investigation, and, in particular, the handling of one of his two main characters, D.S. Diane Fry, sapped much of my interest in the novel.

   Diane is an outsider to the region and has become increasingly dissatisfied with her job (and life), and Booth, perhaps himself dissatisfied with the character, has no firm sense of the direction in which he might take her. I didn’t find the character “development,” if that’s what it is, believable. She just comes across as unhappy and unpleasant, and any sympathy I’ve felt earlier for this troubled D.S. greatly diminished.

   I can only hope that Booth gets a firmer grip on her character in the next novel although I’m not really sure that I care to see if he does.

   [ … ]


   As an addendum to this rather glum take on Booth’s novel, I’m happy to report that the next novel, Dying to Sin, finds Booth in a return to form, with DS Fry and DC Cooper working together to trace the history of skeletons turned up in ground breaking work by the new owner of a local farm, a history that will lead to a third body and a trail of abuse and murder that leads the investigators far afield in their attempts to identify the remains and track down the perpetrators.

   The novel is also a record of the tremendous changes in farming and landowning that are transforming the landscape of rural England. Fry is perhaps no more content with her present assignment than she was in the preceding novel, but she’s able to work effectively within its framework and the more settled Ben Cooper.