Family troubles of all shapes and surprises keep the cops hopping and the tension high in English novelist Stephen Booth's fourth Ben Cooper/Diane Fry mystery, Blind to the Bones.
The most affecting of this novel's three plot lines concerns the disappearance of university student Emma Renshaw, who was last seen more than two years ago while on her way home to Derbyshire. Unable to accept that their daughter isn't merely late on the train, that she's more than likely dead, Howard and Sarah Renshaw have gone to extraordinary lengths to find her, consulting psychics and "bombarding the police with theories and suggestions, pleas and demands"--all for naught. But then, suddenly, Emma's blood-stained mobile phone is found, and the Renshaws' faith seems finally to be rewarded. Or is this just another opportunity for disappointment? Meanwhile, Detective Constable Cooper--posted temporarily (he hopes) to a rural crime squad--is investigating burglaries around the depressed old village of Withens, when the battered corpse of one of Emma's ex-housemates turns up on the nearby moors, his face blackened with theatrical make-up and stolen goods left behind in his car. Inquiries lead Cooper to a clannish local family with a history of trouble-making, and put him in the sights of a shadowy group called the Border Rats.
Booth's ability over the course of a story to transform some of his least suspicious players into the most devious (or vice-versa) and his appreciative portrayal of England's scenic Peak District both make for engrossing fiction. Blind to the Bones's subtlest but most intriguing element, though, may be its third plot thread, which finds Detective Sergeant Fry's long-lost, heroin-addicted sister turning up in Edendale, where she tries to enlist Cooper's help in convincing the hard-edged Diane to stop looking for her, once and for all. This track answers several questions about DS Fry's past while raising more--and promising new levels of character development in future installments of this series. --J. Kingston Pierce