The Devil’s Edge by Stephen Booth

Time for the third in the reviews concerning International Booksellers’ Week and, in particular, the CWA event organised by Formby Books – and do check out the proprietor Tony’s new blog, showing what he’s been up to in order to promote reading in the local area. The three authors who spoke were Martin Edwards, of whom I’ve spoken of quite a bit here, Frances Brody, new to me, and writer of the very enjoyable Dying In The Wool, and Stephen Booth, writer of the internationally best-selling Peak District-set series featuring Ben Cooper and Diane Fry. Oh, and it was a very pleasant surprise to bump into Mary Earnshaw, author of A Wake of Vultures. But back to Stephen Booth.

Of course, as this is a long series of well-selling books, I hadn’t read one of them for years. I’m pretty sure that I’d read one years ago, when the series was starting, but in those days I was not a reader who was looking for characterisation and setting, just plot, and as such, I would get impatient with books where the plot seemed at times secondary. That was my vague recollection of whichever of Stephen’s books that I’d read before and, needless to say, I didn’t return to the series. Now, when I’d considered returning, I’d been put off by this memory and the rather large page-count. But it would be rude not to read one of the books by each of the speakers and I asked Tony for a recommendation. Hence the most recent paperback, The Devil’s Edge. So, would I find, as so often I do, that the young Puzzle Doctor was an idiot who overlooked another great series?

Hmm… I think young Puzzle Doctor might have been right after all.

I really don’t want to say this as Stephen is a lovely man and a great speaker – I really enjoyed all three of the speakers at the evening – and after hearing him, I wanted to rush home to finish the book. I was about halfway through and I figured things were about to kick off, plotwise.

One of the points of the talk was that the modern crime novel needed to marry three things: plot, character and setting. Let’s take them one at a time.

Plot: Oh, haven’t mentioned that yet. There have been a spate of burglaries in the Edenvale area recently by a gang dubbed The Savages. When one of the robberies has fatal consequences, in the village of Riddings, DS Cooper’s team leads the enquiry. That’s about all you need to know, as I’d imagine most of you can already see the basic structure of where the plot’s going. And to be honest, that was a problem for me. While the “who” element was still up in the air, I felt that I’d read the basic plot a number of times before and at no point was there any hint that it wasn’t going where I expected it to. And it took an age for Cooper to voice his thoughts as well, despite, apparently, suspecting it all along.

Character: I asked Stephen how important it was to read the series in order – this is the eleventh in the series, by the way – and he said that it depends on the reader. Well, for me, I didn’t particularly care about the characters as I hadn’t invested in ten previous books about them and as such, they left me quite flat. Things seem to move in certain directions and then nothing comes of them – such as Cooper effectively ignoring his fiancée in favour of taking his new partner into his confidence, but his musing about things that had happened in the past didn’t affect me at all, as I hadn’t read the previous books.

Setting: This is where the book does pay off, as the author uses the setting of the ridge overlooking the village and the general surrounding to add some real flavour to the proceedings. I can see that if I’d been to the Peak District, this part would really sing to me, and I can understand Stephen’s tales of tour parties visiting the sites of his books.

But, in the end, one out of three isn’t really enough for me. At some point, I’ll revisit an earlier book, as hopefully, the characters will then grow on me. But I’m concerned about the plot aspect – as well as having a familiar shape, it was also slow, as is often the case with large page counts. I’ll be back to the series, but not in the immediate future, I’m afraid. As was said at the talk, every reader sees different things in a book. Hopefully I’ll enjoy my next visit more.

8 comments

  1. Puzzle Doctor – Sorry to hear you were disappointed in this one. I give you credit though for going back and revisiting a series. Sometimes people’s tastes do change. And series grow and evolve too.

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    • It was the hopeful evolution of the series that made me check out a later book in it, but it seemed to have the same flaws as I remembered the earlier one having. Never mind, I’ve plenty more things to read…

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  2. I think that this is a series that gets better as it goes along. I have just read the latest book ‘Dead and Buried’ and it really is very good. I would urge you to persevere!

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    • But as that is the book directly following this one, it doesn’t give me much confidence in the early volumes, which I imagine is where the character development is… Despite a signed copy of Dancing With The Virgins, I’m in no rush to return to the series.

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    • Back now, with far too many books to read. Hand on heart, I can’t bring myself to recommend this series based on what I’ve read, when there are better series, IMHO, out there, such as Martin Edwards’ Lake District series. But as Stephen Booth said himself at the authors’ meeting that I was at, every reader is different and sees different things. I’m just one voice in the crowd, and, as is often the case, I’m in the minority.

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