15 April 2012

Good cop, bad cop, worse cop

It didn't take me long to get back to reading another "crime novel" by Stephen Booth. I was impressed with Black Dog, so on my latest trip to the Northfield Library, I picked up Booth's second book, Dancing with the Virgins.

Characters and characterization were big attractions in the first book, and remain important features in this one. Here's how important they were to me: there were times as I was reading this mystery, that I nearly forgot about the plot and the mystery and wondered about the characters.

The main people in Black Dog are for the most part the main people in Dancing with the Virgins. There's the local boy following in his father's footsteps on the police force. There's his nemisis, the rising star imported from the big city, who beats him out for a promotion. The other officers in the local cop shop are there, with a couple additional people mentioned for the first time.

Oh, and the virgins? They are large upright stones on the moor that local legend says were young women of ancient times who danced on the Sabbath and were turned to stone as punishment. In the midst of the circle of 9 "virgins," a 21st century woman is found murdered. The victim was a "mountain biking" cyclist, attacked not far from where a hiker had been attacked a week earlier. The quiet, rural community is alarmed and demanding that the quiet, rural cops do something about the crime wave.

There are other things going on as well, but it takes a long time for the stories to develop and merge. Maybe that's why I became more interested in the people at times.

The young detective and his nemisis are polar opposites. He operates on gut instincts and an almost religious belief in finding justice. She relies on logic and the presecribed routines of the police manual. She plots her statements and actions like a military campaign. He responds to the needs of the people and the situations around him. Both of them have secrets in their pasts. Both of them wonder about the other and can't imagine how their opposite mangages.

But several of the other characters in Booth's book get pretty extensive development. The poor farmer for whom everything is falling apart; the attack victim whose face is badly disfigured by scars and whose being is disfigured by partial memories; the murder victim, who seemed alone and isolated (like the main characters); a park ranger whose 30-year "career" as a caretaker of his aging mother ends with her death; and a pair of sad-sack misfits who get violently dragged into the story because the VW van they're living in breaks down in the vicinity of murderous violence.

I liked this book. Stephen Booth's ability to profile the people in his stories is at least as good as his ability to craft the stories. He's now written a dozen books. However, I find it difficult to imagine reading that many more books centered on the people in the first two. Booth is not Tony Hillerman and the wilderness of the Peak District is not the wilderness of northern Arizona and New Mexico and Booth's detectives are not Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. I'm hoping that the next Stephen Booth book I pick up will have different characters and settings.

Have you read Dancing with the Virgins? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought about it.

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