By Stephen Booth
Reviewed by Jodie
A severed hand is found on the site of Pity Wood Farm while the building is being redeveloped. The police arrive in the form of Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, a most stereotypical police partnership. Diane is career conscious, uptight, attuned to the slightest snub and crucially she is from out of town. In contrast Ben is laid back towards his career development, intuitive, friendly and a local boy. I think readers will agree that we may have seen this kind of pairing before.
Perhaps my experience of Stephen Booth’s ‘Dying to Sin’ suffered from a lack of knowledge as I haven’t read the previous seven books in the series it is possible I have missed the character development of his police officers. However I think that individual books should be able to stand alone from a series with minimum inconvenience to the reader. The characters should continue to grow and change throughout a series or else they become static. ‘Dying to Sin’ seems too pleased with the characters already created and so there is little character development.
Booth is at his best when voicing the thoughts of Ben who is a genuinely lovely, warm character, who brings new depth to the classic portrayal of the son of a former policeman. His interaction with his brother allows Booth to include much discussion on the future of farming, which brings a new slant of interest to the local aspects of the story. Ben is also a vehicle for the author’s interest in history and superstition. Importantly while he is addicted to his job he makes many of his break-throughs by talking to people he is interviewing or through chance words spoken by friends. This makes the reader feel more able to empathise with him than with his partner Diane, as he interacts successfully outside of his profession and is connected to the rest of humanity.
Diane’s thinking, outside of the case, is not convincing. Her battle with chocolate is extremely odd and is one example of the artificiality of Booth’s attempt at a female voice. It feels as if Booth wants readers to empathise with her as he includes her struggles with her sister and her feeling of isolation but outside of he role as a female police officer, troubled by the gender issues of the job she is hard to empathise with. Judging by Diane’s personality in ‘Dying to Sin’ it is not surprising that he sister feels they have little connection. She does not seem to have much humanity about her and attempts at revealing a secondary character to the one she displays at work are poorly executed.
Stephen Booth has meticulously researched police procedure, providing useful background understanding for readers. He also includes much information on superstitions, such as what severed hands and heads were thought to be useful for. Unfortunately this information is often inserted in an awkward way because Booth is eager to fully explain these fascinating points. These passages, set apart from the flow of the story can disturb the reader and could have been better integrated. When you start being bothered by small details like this you know a book is not as exciting as the discovery of a severed hand in the first chapter would suggest.