This is the latest offering by Stephen Booth, in his crime series set in the Peak District and featuring his two police officers, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry.
The newspapers call them the Savages: a band of home invaders as merciless as they are stealthy. Usually they don’t leave a clue. This time, they’ve left a body. To DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry, the case appears open-and-shut – a woman in a pool of blood on her kitchen floor. But then another victim turns up, dead of fright. As the temperature rises, so does the body count, and soon Cooper and Fry realise they’re just pawns in a twisted game… a game that ends in the sinister shadow of the mountain ridge called the Devil’s Edge.
Don’t let the above blurb fool you – the storyline isn’t all about blood, gore and fear. For me, the strength of Booth’s writing is that it is more edgily relevant and contemporary than many crime novels. There is a real feel that this book could only be set right now – featuring the preoccupations about the economic crisis causing police funding cutbacks and stretching resources as widely as possible. As Cooper – who is the main protagonist in this book – struggles to work out just why his instincts are twanging about this case, we are given a ringside seat in the stresses of policing a rural area. Booth’s slow-burn build gives us slices of Cooper’s daily routine, along with the steady accumulation of information and evidence as residents in the exclusive village of Riddings are questioned in an attempt to get to the bottom of the murders.
We learn of the tensions within the small, isolated community perched at the foot of one of the stunning beauty spots that gives the book its name – the Devil’s Edge. As ever, the characters are wonderfully complex and those of us who are fans of Booth’s work also get reacquainted with Fry’s edgy aggression and Murfin’s cynicism that can only be assuaged by another sausage roll…
Meanwhile the stark Peak District landscape pervades the novel, providing an atmospheric backdrop to the unfolding drama which eventually leads to the dramatic climax during a thunderstorm. I’m not surprised to hear that Cooper and Fry’s exploits are in the process of being televised – the mystery for me has been that no one has thought to do so, sooner.
Any niggles? While I do appreciate the wonderful setting – the Peak District happens to be one of my favourite places – I do think Booth needs to take care that he doesn’t overplay it. For the first time when reading a Booth novel, I did find myself skimming the descriptions of the scenery during the second half of the book.
Overall though, it’s a relatively picky point – and in a year that hasn’t, so far, been the best, getting my annual fix of Booth’s moody whodunit while the rain batters at the windows, certainly has me feeling more like facing the gale-force winds to try and weed the sulking vegetables…