(cover image from Amazon.com)
Dancing with the Virgins (2001) is the second in Stephen Booth's Cooper & Fry mystery series, the sequel to Black Dog. As in the previous book, a young woman is found murdered in the national park, but the condition of the body, plus a previous attack in the same area, has the police worried about a possible serial killer.
As in the first book, it took me awhile to get interested in the story, but I was expecting great things later on, so I pretty much raced through the first half of the book. I think that was a mistake. I did get hooked on it, eventually. However, I must say that Dancing with the Virgins wasn't what I expected.
In particular, the relationship between the two young detectives, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, didn't develop at all as I expected (I'm not talking about a romantic relationship, necessarily). And although Cooper was still sympathetic, it was harder to like Fry in this one. This book was a lot darker than the first, too. In my review, I said that the first book wasn't depressing,... but this one was. It's a very good book, but not very cheerful, even for a murder mystery.
OK, when it comes to the detectives, I suppose I've seen too many buddy-cop movies. You know how it is: two very different detectives join forces and develop a close partnership after a very rocky beginning. Well, that cliche might still happen in this series, but right now, both Cooper and Fry seem to have gone backwards - in their personal lives and in their professional relationship, both.
As I say, this is a very dark book, and that extends to the detectives as well as to the minor characters. In Black Dog, Cooper and Fry both had their demons, but they seemed to be on the brink of developing... something. Not here. Here, they can barely stand to even look at each other, and in both cases, their demons seem to be gaining ground.
It's still interesting, but I'm not sure how enjoyable the series will actually prove to be. It's not that Dancing with the Virgins didn't hold my attention, especially later in the book, but it was really too dark for my tastes. That's OK for one book, but I'm not sure I'd want to read a whole series like this.
And in a series with recurring characters, I want to see some character development as the series continues. In a detective series with two main characters, I want to see some advance in their personal and professional relationship, aside from whatever case they happen to be investigating.
I didn't really find that here. At best, there were hints which might be developed further in the rest of the series, but it's hard to tell. So Dancing with the Virgins was a bit disappointing. It's not that I disliked the book, but that I'm less sure it's a series I'll really enjoy.
Still, I'm pretty curious about what I'll find in the next volume, Blood on the Tongue.
Edit: Well, I tried Blood on the Tongue (2002), but I didn't get very far. I thought the first two books were dark? As far as I could tell - as I say, I didn't get very far - there's not one single person in this book who's enjoying life, not one. It seems to be a miserable life for every character.
If I had any expectation that this might change for some of them, if there were any ray of light at all to drive back the darkness, then maybe I'd continue with the book and the series. But I don't. Frankly, if the Peak District really is this bad, they should probably just nuke the place and start all over.
Note: My other book reviews are here.