Scared to Live
A Cooper & Fry Mystery
Witness Impulse, April 2014
Scared to Live marks the return of DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper, the protagonists of this wonderful series by Stephen Booth. At the outset Diane is called to the scene of a fire which Diane by some instinct deems suspicious, though there is no immediate evidence to support that conclusion. A woman and two of her children have died in the blaze; the husband was not at home at the time and the daughter was at the home of her grandparents, so those family members were spared. Shortly thereafter Ben investigates the death of a middle-aged woman, apparently a recluse, shot to death with a high-powered rifle in the home where she had lived for the past ten months, with no sign of entry into the house. There are no clues as to who might have done it, much less what possible motive there could have been. The woman had been so alone and without human contact that her body had lain undiscovered for more than a day. These two incidents could not appear to be more different, one of three members of a family in a well-off rural community and the other of a middle-class ‘spinster’ on an Edendale housing estate. But as the investigations proceed, it seems there might indeed have been connections.
There is a wonderful sense of place throughout the novel, with lovely descriptive prose enabling the reader to easily visualize the Edendale area of Ben’s birth, the villages of the Peak District and the old mills once so prevalent there: “The back wall of the mill overlooked the river. Its five stories were full of windows – – long ranks of them separated into pairs by stone mullions. They were spaced with Victorian precision, but so small and dark that nothing was visible behind the glass. Those windows stared out across the rushing water like blank eyes. There were scores of them, a hundred pairs of eyes – a high, brick wall full of dead faces.” There are also fascinating tidbits of local history and folklore.
The proverbial ‘fly in the ointment’ is a common enough phrase, but it took this author to conjure the picture of “a tiny fly twitching its wings in the ointment.” I thoroughly enjoyed this book as much for its excellent plotting as for the author’s continuing development of the protagonists, individually as well as playing off each other, the latter made that much more interesting for the fact that Diane is Ben’s boss. The point is often made here that “emotions always interfere with rational behaviour,” exemplified in more than one of the characters. The book is highly recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2014.