Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Dancing with the Virgins" by Stephen Booth

(cover image from

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.


Tony Williams said...

Bill, I read Black Dog with interest because I happen to live on the edge of the Peak District National Park and the events are set within a few miles of my home. Unfortunately this turned out to be a disadvantage, because the author invented a town as the base for his fictional police force. This jarred with the otherwise accurate geography, and distracted me from enjoying the book. I kept thinking - where is this place meant to be?

This made me think about the settings for such stories. Authors have various choices: they can choose a real location and keep the geography accurate throughout, which is fine if it's a big city police force but perhaps more difficult in a smaller area (the small, local police force might be offended at being portrayed). Donna Leon manages this with her Commissioner Brunetti series set in Venice (Italy, that is…), but I don't know what the Venice police make of it! Similarly, the Morse series set in Oxford manages to get away with it.

Or the author can invent a town in an indeterminate location (e.g. Midsomer in the long-running TV series).

Or the author can use a real town but change the name, as Martin Walker does with his Bruno, Chief of Police series set in a small town in the French Dordogne (the fictional town is called St Denis but is in fact based closely on Le Bugue, as I accidentally discovered when reading the first Bruno book shortly after staying in Le Bugue).

All of these approaches work for me, but Booth's does not, so I don't plan to read any more of them.

WCG said...

That's an unusual problem, Tony. Well, maybe not for you, given all the mysteries which seem to be set in the UK. But I don't expect to have that problem here in Nebraska. :)

I understand how it could be jarring, though - especially when the location is such an important part of the mystery series.