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Monday, January 23, 2017

The Murder Road. Stephen Booth. Sphere (2015)

A very engaging and enjoyable police procedural that is also a soft reboot for the series. A lorry gets stuck under a bridge blocking the only road access to the hamlet of Shawhead. The driver has vanished but blood stains in the cab suggest foul play. Detective Inspector Ben Cooper leads the investigation, which, when the driver's body is found, becomes a fully fledged murder inquiry. The investigation uncover secrets and lies among the inhabitants of Shawhead, it is with a death in a different location that puts the investigation on the path to understanding what really happened and why. The reveals are very well stages, the threads of the story are carefully set up and come together convincingly for the satisfyingly sour conclusion.
Ben Cooper is a great lead character, he is smart, confident and capable, a little unsure in his new position, he is likable and engaging. Ben Cooper has a nice array of professional, managerial and personal issues, none are overwhelming or threatening, all are demanding and require thoughtful attention to resolve.
This is a soft reboot of a long running series, major characters are moved out gently but firmly and Ben Cooper is given the full lead and a new supporting cast are introduced. They are all given the chance to make an impression with the reader and they do so. None are outrageous, in line with the general tenor of the series, all have enough distinct personality to be able to hold their own over time. The cast members who are being moved off stage have it done with grace and care, no one is trashed for effect.
The plot mechanics are very thoughtful, two distinct narrative threads are set up with a third lurking in the background. The way that they intertwine is very smart, there separate investigations are unfurled with care and attention to detail. The knot that ties them together is nicely unexpected and carefully set up to reveal itself for maximum impact.
This is a quiet story, it does not drive forward at speed, it generates a tremendous hold on the reader without advertising it, the cast engage and the plot mechanics bite firmly and the total impact is very strong. The location, the Peak District is one of the major characters in the story, the landscape is always surrounding, hiding and revealing cast members and plot points. It is never cosy, the Peak District is a harsh location and the story has a vein of bitterness and savagery that settles in very naturally into the stunning context. Stephen Booth has the confidence and skill to deliver a great crime story, manage continuity and carry readers with him while making it all look effortless
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