Crime Fiction

Stephen Booth – The Murder Road

The Murder Road: A Cooper & Fry Mystery by…

This is volume 15 of Stephen Booth’s “Cooper & Fry” series of crime novels – or, as it rather should be called at this stage, his “DI Ben Cooper” series, because the supposed other protagonist Diane Fry hardly shows up at all in this novel; she has only two (possibly three, I am not quite sure) short scenes from her point of view. On one hand, I can see why Booth has been sidelining her – you just need to skip through the reviews of previous novels in the series on Goodreads and you can’t help but notice that Cooper is by far more popular with readers, but nobody seems to like Fry much. Which, again, is understandable because she is far more unlikeable than genial local policeman Ben Cooper – she is rather prickly, keeps to herself to the point of being anti-social and makes no secret of wanting to advance in her job. All of which may not make her the nicest person to be around, but does make her a by far more interesting character than Cooper who, frankly, is a bit boring and Booth had to go to considerable trouble and introduce a major tragic event into his life to give him some colour.

After reading The Murder Road I am suspecting that Booth shares this assessment of his two main characters. All but jettisoning Fry in favour of Cooper may have seemed like a good idea to please his readers, but with Fry mostly missing from the novel, an essential element has been removed, and the resulting book seems to have taken on Cooper’s traits – in other words, I found The Murder Road rather bland. While I do not necessary read Stephen Booth’s novels for the mystery element, it still does not help the novel that the plot is rather flimsy – coincidences as well as (what I perceived as) inconsistencies abound, and I am not sure the crime is ever explained satisfactorily and plausibly. It seems like a lot of events had to align for the crime to even take place, several of which appear to be quite out of the control of its perpetrators and there definitely are one or two threads left dangling – which may very well have been intentional, to show that things are not resolved all that neatly in real life, but together with everything else one does wonder if may not have been laziness on the author’s part.

I do read Stephen Booth’s novels mainly for his descrptions of the Peak Districts and the way of live of its inhabitants as well as his realistic depiction of police procedure, and at least The Murder Road still delivers on that, so reading it was not a complete waste of time, and I will continue with the series in the hope that things will improve again. But even those parts are strangely listless, not at all like what one is used to from Booth’s earlier novels, and I had the distinct impression that his heart was not really in it and that The Murder Road was mostly phoned in.

Stuart Turton: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a book in which twists and revelations play a large part; and while it undoubtedly will be great fun to re-read with the solution in mind in order to see how Stuart Turton placed all of his numerous puzzle pieces, for a first reading the less you know about what to expect, the better. The novel is an intricately crafted puzzle wrapped in a mystery story pervaded by a dense, creepy atmosphere and some elements of the supernatural or SFnal (we never really find out which). If this is something that appeals to you, I’d recommend you to skip this blog posts, skip reading any reviews of the book altogether, and, if at all possible, even avoid reading the back cover description, and instead that just grab the book and start reading. Chances are, you’ll be enjoying the experience a lot.

With that out of the way, I’m not going to hold back on spoilers in what follows, so if you have not read the novel yet, turn back now. The post will also very likely not make much sense to you unless you are somewhat familiar with the novel. You have been warned.


Rick Riordan: The Last King of Texas

Rick Riordan is best known for his Percy Jackson series of Young Adult novels which is apparently quite popular. His first couple of novels before he started writing YA however, are a series of crime novels centered around private investigator Tres Navarre. I was not aware of that either until i stumbled across them when the e-books were on sale. The Last King of Texas is the third novel in the series (and the third one I’ve read) and so far it has been rather a lot of fun.


John Le Carré: The Little Drummer Girl

One thing I like and admire about John Le Carré’s work is that he is not content to rest on his (by this, his tenth published novel, considerable) laurels, but time and again ventures out of his comfort zones into unexplored territory. The departure in The Little Drummer Girl is not quite as radical as it was in The Naive and Sentimental Lover where he left the thriller genre completely, but here we find him moving away not only from his protagonist George Smiley but also the Cold War setting where he seemed to have found his narrative home and instead turn his writerly attention to the Israeli-Palestine conflict instead.


Jo Walton: Farthing

While I love me some Sword & Sorcery or Epic Fantasy, I also find myself often bewailing the many wasted chance in this genre: Fantasy – as the name already should indicate but so very often it turns out to be a misnomer – offers so many possibilities to the imaginative authors, and yet most of would give your average  Harlequin Romance a run when it comes to sticking with a true-and-trusted formula. There are exceptions; but they are rare and one has to go looking for them.


Phil Rickman: The Magus of Hay

Wine of Angels, the first novel in Phil Rickman’s “Merrily Watkins” series appeared in 1998. Since then, the series has developed from novels mixing mystery with the occult and the spooky to novels using crime fiction plots to chronicle the increasing decline of the English countryside and its sense of community. Which was fine with me, as it was always Rickman’s sense of locale and his atmospheric description of British village life which appealed to me most about the series.


Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö: Cop Killer

Although this ninth is only the penultimate volume of Maj Sjöwall’s and Per Wahlöö’s consistently excellent series of police procedurals, it feels like a summing up of what has gone before, of things coming to a head and to an end. The most obvious cause of that is probably that Cop Killer harkens back to the first two novels by bringing back the murderers featured in them (which is why it is a good to not read Cop Killer before Roseanna and The Man Who Went Up In Smoke, unless you really don’t mind spoilers). Maybe somewhat less obvious, but definitely more important is the way this novel marks the culmination of the authors’ ongoing critique of the course Swedish society has taken since the late 60’s.