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Dying To Sin

Stephen Booth

Stephen Booth's Cooper and Fry novels are authentic police procedurals set in the Derrbyshire Peak District. This is the eighth books in the series.


For decades, Pity Wood Farm has been a source of employment for poor workers passing through Rakedale, migrants with lives as abject as the labour they sought. But now it seems a far worse fate may have befallen some of those who came upon this isolated community.


Routine building work at the farm has unearthed a grisly discovery: a human hand preserved in clay. When police dig up the farmyard, they find not one, but two bodies – and several years between their burials.


With pressure from a new Superintendent and scant forensic evidence to aid them, DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper have only the memories of local people to piece together the history of the farm. In a case as cold as the ground, Cooper finds himself drawn to a desperate theory: that somewhere, there lies a third body which holds the key to these dreadful crimes.

The novel begins a week before Christmas at Pity Wood Farm near the village of Rakedale. Temporary worker Jamie Ward is digging a trench for a new wall footing when he makes the gruesome discovery of a buried human skeleton. Cooper and Fry and their team, and the forensics team, are called in and begin to investigate. It’s not long before a second skeleton is also found and the investigation moves into high gear. It turns out that the remains belong to two unidentified women (and no, before you start wondering, these are not victims of a crazed serial killer who likes to prey on young women).

Pity Wood Farm was owned for many years by brothers Raymond and Derek Sutton, so one angle that Cooper and Fry explore is the history of the Sutton family. Derek Sutton has died but Raymond Sutton is alive and in a nursing care home and it’s he who sold the farm to its current owner. Sutton claims not to know anything about the remains found on the farm and in fact, forensics evidence suggests that the bodies were buried after Sutton sold the farm.

The new owner of Pity Wood farm is Manchester attorney Aaron Goodwin, who has bought the land for development. He, too, claims not to know anything about the bodies. He isn’t personally connected with the land or the farm and has no history in the area, so although Cooper and Fry don’t discount him they can’t really prove that he had anything to do with the deaths.

The characters of Ben Cooper and Diane Fry are important elements in this novel. Cooper isn’t exactly a local but he wasn’t brought up far away from Rakedale, so he has a much better understanding of the people and the way they think than does his partner. And several times in the novel it’s that knowledge and intuition that moves the case along. Fry is smart, observant and in many ways tough. She’s hardly perfect; she’s brusque, impatient and not always respectful of local ways. She can be sarcastic, too. But she has a skill at making sense of the various threads of the case. The two detectives complement each other and although there are things they don’t like about each other, they also respect one another’s skills (not that Fry is really willing to admit that).

The suspense lies not so much in the action as in the setting, the atmosphere and the uncovering of what’s been happening at Pity Wood Farm. Even the weather adds to that suspense. For much of the time it’s raining – that cold autumn rain that can chill you right to the bone as you might say.

Dying to Sin is a police procedural with a believable mystery, an eerie and bleak atmosphere and doses of history.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

About Stephen Booth:

A former newspaper journalist, Stephen Booth is the creator of two young Derbyshire police detectives, DS Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry. The novels are all set in and around England's Peak District.

The Cooper & Fry series has won awards on both sides of the Atlantic, and Detective Constable Cooper has been a finalist for the Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British author. In 2003 the Crime Writers’ Association presented Stephen with the Dagger in the Library Award for “the author whose books have given readers most pleasure.”

The novels are sold all around the world, with translations in 15 languages, and are currently in development for a TV series.

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