Written by Stephen Booth — Detective Sergeant Diane Fry of the East Midlands Special Operations Unit is in the small Derbyshire town of Shirebrook investigating the murder of a Polish man, Krystian Zalewski. It appears Zalewski suffered a head wound before dying in his flat. But Shirebrook is not all it seems. The place is a hotbed of racial tension. After an influx Eastern Europeans to work at a local factory the town’s demographic has changed radically. The two sides – locals and immigrants – exist in an uneasy stand-off.
Meanwhile, in Edendale further over in Derbyshire, DI Ben Cooper and his team are tackling a spate of motorbike robberies and barn fires. However, an unusual missing persons case passes across Cooper’s desk. Reece Bower has disappeared. Ten years ago Bower was the primary suspect in the disappearance and presumed death of his wife, Annette. Though her corpse was never found the police felt confident enough that he was the killer to charge him. However, before the case went to court Annette’s father came forward, claiming he’d subsequently seen her alive and well. Reluctantly, the case against Bower was dropped.
Cooper begins digging. Despite living in the same house in Bakewell, Bower seems to have moved on. He was in a relationship with a woman called Naomi Heath and apparently had a good job until one day he’d upped and left. He didn’t even take his car, he just walked away, telling Naomi she wouldn’t see him for some time. It emerges that Bower was under some stress at work as his colleagues would regularly mention Annette’s disappearance and his seeming involvement. Sometimes it got too much in the past and Naomi assumes it’s happened again.
Cooper’s speaks to the witnesses involved in the original case – Annette’s mother, father and Bower’s daughter, who’s now an 18-year-old student living in Sheffield. The case begins to prey on Cooper’s mind. He carries around a photo of Annette in his pocket and thinks he sees her himself. Is she still alive after all? But where is Bower? He seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth…
This is the 17th Cooper and Fry in the series. Although there is clearly some history between the pair and the occasional reference to previous events which have affected Cooper, overall it is possible to read Dead In The Dark as a standalone. Overall, Cooper and Fry don’t feel like they’ve overstayed their welcome, as many long running narratives eventually do. Try and think of another series that is 20 books in and still works – there’s not many that do.
First and foremost there is a great connection with the Derbyshire countryside, and Booth clearly knows the area extremely well. The rural locations and the racial tensions, a very current issue, create a really interesting backdrop for both story arcs.
Oddly, this feels more like a Cooper story, even though Fry gets equal billing and plenty of pages. It’s the mystery of Bower’s disappearance that you will probably find most compelling, in fact the entire jacket blurb is about this case, not Fry’s murder. Part of the reason might be Cooper is an engaging character whereas Fry is distant, aloof and not particularly likeable. However, puzzlingly, there’s a long period (page 28 to 115) after the introduction of Bower’s disappearance where Cooper clears off and deals with the barn fire and robbery. They’re interesting, but of no relevance to the more interesting case of Bower.
The famous Cooper and Fry actually spend very little time together, either on the same page or even thinking about each other because their enquiries don’t overlap. If you’re looking for a detective double-act, this isn’t it. Surprisingly for a book from Sphere, the editing is a little lacklustre. There are repeated words and phrases that will jar.
Overall, Dead in the Dark this is an enjoyable, very readable yet understated crime novel by an accomplished author. Spending a few hours in Cooper and Fry’s company – separately or together – is no hardship.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars