Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dancing with the Virgins: Stephen Booth

Brief description at the author's website:
In a remote part of the Peak District stand the Nine Virgins, a ring of stones overshadowed by a dark legend. Now, as winter closes in, a tenth figure is added to the circle when the body of Jenny Weston is discovered, her limbs arranged so that she appears to be dancing.
Against the dramatic backdrop of the White Peak, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry struggle to make sense of a murder that seems motiveless. But the moors have witnessed more bloodshed than either realises, and violence is to beget more violence before the answer is found.
This is definitely a chunky book. The UK paperback edition I read was 562 pages. Why did I choose it? Partly because I wanted a long book to slow down my reading output so I could catch up on reviews. Partly because I am committed to giving this series a try and I had balked at the length too many times. I read the first book and liked it well enough to continue the series, but then I realized that all the subsequent books I have are very, very long. This book and this series is a commitment for anyone who prefers a shorter novel.

The two main characters, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, are both Derbyshire detectives in the Peak District. Before the book begins, Diane has been promoted to Detective Sergeant, which Ben remains a Detective Constable. Some feel that she has taken his promotion away from him.

I had a hard time getting into these characters. Diane is so hard and bitter and avoids depth in any relationship. Ben is a kind and good man, almost seeming too good to be a successful policeman. He is dedicated to his job. Ben loves the area he grew up in and now works in; Diane hates being away from the city. Both have their own demons. Within the framework of this long story their back stories are interesting but do not take over the plot.

The story is intricate with lots of layers. I never would have guessed the direction the investigation takes towards the end, yet it makes sense. There were twists and turns along the way but they too felt like they were realistic, the way a real police case may go in the wrong direction initially.

Dancing with the Virgins won the Barry Award for the Best British Crime Novel in 2002. The novel was also shortlisted for the 2001 CWA Golden Dagger Award. In 2003, Stephen Booth won the Dagger in the Library, which is "awarded not for an individual book but for the author’s body of work."

Overall I liked this book, and I will continue to read Booth's books and see if they maintain their quality. There are now fourteen books in the series.

An aside: Regarding 2001 CWA Golden Dagger Award, it was won by Henning Mankell for Sidetracked  and the Silver Dagger went to Giles Blunt for Forty Words for Sorrow. I have read Blunt's book and will get to Sidetracked one of these days. There are three other books that were shortlisted and I would like to read them all:  Baby Love by Denise Danks; Right as Rain by George Pelecanos; and The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Harper, 2007 (orig. pub. 2001)
Length:       562 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Ben Cooper and Diane Fry #2
Setting:      Derbyshire, Peak District National Park
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.

24 comments:

  1. TracyK: I found your review interesting. However, I am at the opposite end of the spectrum. I am looking for shorter books to read to get through at least some of the TBR boxes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I sympathize, Bill, those TBR boxes can be daunting. Sometimes the longer books don't take that long to get through. Probably depends on the writing and my mood.

      Delete
  2. I have been meaning to read this series for quite a while. Like years. LOL

    I need to see about getting the first book. The first one is available for my Kindle for only $2.99. Think I'll try it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kay, I read that first book a long time ago, but I remember liking it. I think this series is definitely worth trying.

      Delete
  3. I'm with Bill but this sounds great and I will link it on FFB

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Patti. It is a good book and a good choice for those who don't mind the length of the books.

      Delete
  4. Tracy - I'm glad you liked this one overall. I think Stephen Booth does a really effective job at depicting the Peak District and the people who live there. And I do agree that Fry's and Cooper's personal demons really don't take over the plot; I find that refreshing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Margot, I am glad that I did read this one and wasn't put off by the length.

      Delete
  5. I have toyed with reading him in the past, but the length has been off-putting. I decided against in the end. I think I'd rather read a couple of shorter books, that said I'm about to embark on a 600 plus page book soon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In addition to the length, Col, I don't see anything in this particular book that would especially appeal to you. It isn't cozy at all but still.... What is the 600 page book?

      Delete
  6. I've heard of him and have always been interested in reading him. I think I might own a book of his already. TBH, I was irked at the melodrama you cited in your review about Diane taking Ben's promotion. That's the kind of office politics I hate. It's convenient as well to make her bitter and lack any depth while the male protagonist is the complete opposite. Irksome and more of a rant so pardon me. I'm sure this isn't the only book to feature this kind of gendered politics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very interesting, Keishon. The office politics thing was there. Often in police departments, and particularly in this one, women are not tolerated very well. Although in this case it is at least partly her prickly personality. But I really wasn't thinking along those lines when I read it. And my description of that portion is brief and possibly misleading. Nevertheless, it is an aspect that is worthy of comment.

      Now you have made me want to get to the third book even sooner to see how that goes in future books.

      Delete
  7. I must confess that the length might easily have put me off as I would hate to get lawful through and not like it - but, I do have one of his on the TBR, so seek it out. It's maddening - as a youngster I never, ever worried about the length of a tome - now I just would hate to waste the time, reading time is too precious! Which makes trusted opinion like this very handy - thanks chum.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sergio, I still haven't figured out why I dread reading longer books now. There was a time when I did not consider length at all, and sometimes even preferred longer books. It probably does have something to do with not wanting to give up on a book once it is started. But I have been lucky lately when I have chosen long books.

      Delete
  8. Tracy, it was interesting that you read this "long book to slow down (your) reading output so (you) could catch up on reviews." I think it's a good idea, as I review fewer books than I read. But won't that mean you'll be reading fewer books this month than you usually do? And will it affect your reading for the various challenges you are participating in?

    Stephen Booth is a new author for me and one I must keep an eye out for.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Prashant, I think the answer is yes to both of your questions. I finished reading this book in early February and it was a slow month for me. So you can see how far behind I am on reviewing. But I don't want to read just for numbers. As far as challenges, I do love them but I am trying now to stress about anything now, including finishing challenges.

      Delete
  9. Hmm. When the review started, I thought it all started too routine and I could safely decide not to read it. But then - curse you! - you made it sound highly intriguing. So I will stay as Not Sure. I so agree with Sergio - length of books used not to bother me at all, but now it is a big issue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Moira, my reaction when reading the book was along the lines as you describe. It seemed too routine, but the further I got into it, various aspects were intriguing. I am now curious as to where these characters go. But the length is a definite drawback.

      Delete
  10. I have a general problem when I'm trying to find newer mystery books to read. For whatever reason, a lot of them all sound the same when I'm reading the synopses, so I never know where to start. I really like the Tana French novels, so maybe I should give this one a go as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are some similarities between this series and the Tana French series, although I have only read the first book by Tana French. I have to get back to those, but those are long too.

      Delete
  11. I read a book, or a few books, in the series quite some time ago, and now I'm interested in getting back to it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will be interested to see you reviews of any of them. I am curious as to what Book 3 will bring.

      Delete
  12. I'm a fan of Booth, as I like mysteries that are both dense and dark. I also like that I always learn something about history or biology or whatever the sub-themes happen to be. His books may be longer than some, but find that I tear through them more quickly than a lot of shorter books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did find this book pulled me in more and more as I read it. I am looking forward to Blood on the Tongue and I think I have two more after that.

      Delete