Residents of the Peak District are used to tourists descending on its soaring hills and brooding valleys. However, this summer brings a different kind of visitor to the idyllic landscape, leaving behind bodies and secrets.
A series of suicides throughout the Peaks throws Detective Inspector Ben Cooper and his team in Derbyshire’s E Division into a race against time to find a connection to these seemingly random acts — with no way of predicting where the next body will turn up. Meanwhile, in Nottingham Detective Sergeant Diane Fry finds a key witness has vanished…
But what are the mysterious Secrets of Death?
And is there one victim whose fate wasn’t suicide at all?
Genre: Thriller, Fiction Published by: Witness Impulse Publication Date: April 4th 2017 Number of Pages: 384 ISBN: 0062690353 (ISBN13: 9780062690357) Series: Cooper & Fry #16 (Each is a Stand Alone Novel) Purchase Links:Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗
Read an excerpt:
And this is the first secret of death. There’s always a right time and place to die.
It was important to remember. So important that Roger Farrell was repeating it to himself over and over in his head by the time he drew into the car park. When he pulled up and switched off the engine, he found he was moving his lips to the words and even saying it out loud – though only someone in the car with him would have heard it.
And he was alone, of course. Just him, and the package on the back seat.
There’s always a right time and place to die.
As instructed, Farrell had come properly equipped. He’d practised at home to make sure he got everything just right. It was vital to do this thing precisely. A mistake meant disaster. So getting it wrong was inconceivable. Who knew what would come afterwards? It didn’t bear thinking about.
Last night, he’d experienced a horrible dream, a nightmare about weeds growing from his own body. He’d been pulling clumps of ragwort and thistles out of his chest, ripping roots from his crumbling skin as if he’d turned to earth in the night. He could still feel the tendrils scraping against his ribs as they dragged through his flesh.
He knew what it meant. He was already in the ground. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Wasn’t that what they said at your graveside as they shovelled soil on to your coffin? The dream meant his body was recycling back into the earth. In his soul, he’d already died.
Farrell looked around the car park. There were plenty of vehicles here. Although it was the middle of the week, a burst of sunny weather had brought people out into the Peak District in their droves. They’d come to enjoy the special peace and beauty of Heeley Bank, just as he had.
Of course, in many other ways, they weren’t like him at all.
He let out a sigh of contentment. That was the feeling this scenery gave him. The green of the foliage down by the river was startling in its brightness. The farmland he could see stretching up the sides of the hills was a glowing patchwork between a tracery of dry-stone walls. Cattle munched on the new grass in the fields. Further up, a scattering of white blobs covered the rougher grazing where the moors began.
The sight of those sheep made Farrell smile. He’d always associated them with the Peaks. This landscape wouldn’t be the same without sheep. They’d been here for centuries, helping to shape the countryside. And they’d still be here long after he’d gone.
It really was so green out there. So very green.
But there’s always a right time and place.
A silver SUV had pulled into a parking space nearby. Farrell watched a young couple get out and unload two bikes from a rack attached to their vehicle. One of the bikes had a carrier on the back for the small girl sitting in a child seat in the car. She was pre-school, about two years old, wearing a bright yellow dress and an orange sun hat. Her father lifted her out, her toes wiggling with pleasure as she felt the warm air on her skin. The family all laughed together, for no apparent reason.
Farrell had observed people doing that before, laughing at nothing in particular. He’d never understood it. He often didn’t get jokes that others found hilarious. And laughing when there wasn’t even a joke, when no one had actually said anything? That seemed very strange. It was as if they were laughing simply because they were, well . . . happy.
For Roger Farrell, happy was just a word, the appearance of happiness an illusion. He was convinced people put on a façade and acted that way because it was expected of them. It was all just an artificial front. Deep down, no one could be happy in this world. It just wasn’t possible. Happiness was a sham – and a cruel one at that, since no one could attain it. All these people would realise it in the end.
With a surge of pity, Farrell looked away. He’d watched the family too long. Across the car park, an elderly man hobbled on two sticks, accompanied by a woman with a small pug dog on a lead. She had to walk deliberately slowly, so that she didn’t leave the man behind. The pug tugged half-heartedly at its lead, but the woman yanked it back.
These two had probably been married for years and were no doubt suffering from various illnesses that came with age. Did they look happy? Farrell looked more closely at their faces. Definitely not. Not even the dog.
He nodded to himself and closed his eyes as he leaned back in his seat. His breathing settled down to a steady rhythm as he listened to the birds singing in the woods, the tinkle of a stream nearby, the quiet whispering of a gentle breeze through the trees.
As the afternoon drew to a close, he watched the vehicles leave one by one. People were taking off their boots, climbing into cars and heading for home. All of them were complete strangers, absorbed in their own lives. They could see him, of course. An overweight middle-aged man with a receding hairline and a distant stare. But they would never remember him.
A few minutes later, a young man jogged past on to the woodland path, checking his watch as he ran, as if he knew the time was approaching. A black Land Rover eased into a spot opposite Farrell’s BMW, but no one emerged.
And finally, the lights went off in the information centre. A woman came out and locked the front doors. She took a glance round the car park, seemed to see nothing of any interest to her, and climbed into a Ford Focus parked in a bay reserved for staff. Farrell watched as she drove away.
When it was quiet and there were only a few cars left, he leaned over into the back seat and unzipped the holdall. Carefully, Farrell lifted out the gas canisters, uncoiling the plastic tubing as it writhed on to the seat. He placed the canisters in the footwell. They looked incongruous sitting there, painted in fluorescent orange with their pictures of party balloons on the side.
It had taken him a while to find the right brand of gas. Some manufacturers had started putting a percentage of air into the canisters, which made them quite useless for his purpose. That was when things went wrong, if you didn’t check and double-check, and make sure you got exactly the right equipment.
Still, you could find anything on the internet, as he well knew. Information, advice, someone to talk to who actually understood how you were feeling. And the inspiration. He would be nothing without that. He wouldn’t be here at Heeley Bank right now.
And this is the first secret of death. There’s always a right time and place to die.
Farrell said it again. You could never say it too often. It was so important. The most important thing in the world. Or in his world, at least.
He reached back into the holdall and lifted out the bag itself. He held it almost reverently, like a delicate surgical instrument. And it was, in a way. It could achieve every bit as much as any complicated heart operation or brain surgery. It could change someone’s life for the better. And instead of hours and hours of complicated medical procedures on the operating table, it took just a few minutes. It was so simple.
With black tape from a roll, he attached the tubing to the place he’d marked on the edge of the bag, tugging at it to make sure it was perfectly secure. Everything fine so far.
Farrell had spent days choosing a piece of music to play. The CD was waiting now in its case and he slid it out, catching a glimpse of his own reflection in the gleaming surface. He wondered what expression would be in his eyes in the last seconds.
Despite his reluctance to see himself now, he couldn’t resist a glance in his rearview mirror. Only his eyes were visible, pale grey irises and a spider’s web of red lines. His pupils appeared tiny, as if he were on drugs or staring into a bright light. And maybe he was looking at the light. Perhaps it had already started.
The CD player whirred quietly and the music began to play. He’d selected a piece of Bach. It wasn’t his normal choice of music, but nothing was normal now. It hadn’t been for quite a while. The sounds of the Bach just seemed to suit the mood he was trying to achieve. Peace, certainly. And a sort of quiet, steady progression towards the inevitable conclusion.
As the sun set in the west over Bradwell Moor, a shaft of orange light burst over the landscape, transforming the colours into a kaleidoscope of unfamiliar shades, as if the Peak District had just become a tropical island.
Farrell held his breath, awed by the magic of the light. It was one of the amazing things he loved about this area, the way it changed from one minute to the next, from one month to another. Those hillsides he was looking at now would be ablaze with purple heather later in the summer. It was always a glorious sight.
For a moment, Farrell hesitated, wondering whether he should have left it until August or the beginning of September.
And then it hit him. That momentary twinge of doubt exploded inside him, filling his lungs and stopping the breath in his throat until he gathered all his strength to battle against it. His hands trembled with the effort as he forced the doubt back down into the darkness. As the tension collapsed, his shoulders sagged and his forehead prickled with a sheen of sweat.
Farrell felt as though he’d just experienced the pain and shock of a heart attack without the fatal consequences. His lips twitched in an ironic smile. That meant he was still in control. He remained capable of making his own mind up, deciding where and when to end his life. He was able to choose his own moment, his own perfect location.
There’s always a right time and place to die.
Roger Farrell took one last glance out of the window as the light began to fade over the Peak District hills.
A newspaper and magazine journalist for over 25 years, Stephen Booth was born in the English Pennine mill town of Burnley. He was brought up on the Lancashire coast at Blackpool, where he attended Arnold School. He began his career in journalism by editing his school magazine, and wrote his first novel at the age of 12. The Cooper & Fry series is now published by Little, Brown in the UK and by the Witness Impulse imprint of HarperCollins in the USA. In addition to publication in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, translation rights in the series have so far been sold in sixteen languages – French, German, Dutch, Italian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Czech, Romanian, Bulgarian, Japanese and Hebrew.Stephen left journalism in 2001 to write novels full time. He and his wife Lesley live in a village in rural Nottinghamshire, England (home of Robin Hood and the Pilgrim Fathers). They have three cats.
In recent years, Stephen Booth has become a Library Champion in support of the UK’s ‘Love Libraries’ campaign, and a Reading Champion to support the National Year of Reading. He has also represented British literature at the Helsinki Book Fair in Finland, filmed a documentary for 20th Century Fox on the French detective Vidocq, taken part in online chats for World Book Day, and given talks at many conferences, conventions, libraries, bookshops and festivals around the world.
Q&A with Stephen Booth
Writing and Reading: Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
Both, I think. Everything is material for a writer. I spent 25 years as a newspaper journalist covering all kinds of stories – and meeting a lot of police officers. But I also want to make my books as contemporary as possible and deal with current issues.
Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
Definitely the latter. When I start a new book, I don’t know how it will end, or even much of what’s going to happen in the plot. I start with the characters (and a place the belong to, since the locations are very important). Then I devise a situation which puts them under pressure, with a murder happening or a body being found, and I watch how they behave. So the characters create the story, and what subsequently happens might surprise even me. For me, that’s a much more interesting and exciting way of writing than knowing what’s going to happen all the time. Of course, I rely heavily on Cooper and Fry and their police colleagues to do their part of the job and find out what happened. After all, they’re the detectives and I’m just the writer!
Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
I think there’s a bit of me in every character. And of course everyone I meet is likely to influence me too. When we create a character, we use aspects of several people, including ourselves, to produce something new and hopefully unique.
Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
I’m sure everyone is different, but this process works for me. I write a book a year, and in the early stages I might not be putting many words on the page because I’m developing the characters and locations, and the themes of the book. The actual writing can happen quite quickly later on. Although I may be at my desk during the day, there are lots of other things involved in being a writer other than the actual writing. My most creative time is in the evening and late at night, when there are fewer distractions. I work from home, but I’ve converted part of a stable block into an office. So I do physically leave the house to go to work, though I only have to cross the yard!
Tell us why we should read this book.
I think it explores series issues we might not have thought about too much, but in a gripping story that involves mystery, intrigue and some fascinating characters, all set in a beautiful and atmospheric location.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
There are so many. One of my great crime writing heroes was Ruth Rendell, who we lost a couple of years ago. She had the ability to come up with someone fresh and exciting, no matter how long she’d been doing it. I like series with a strong central character, so I’d include on my list Peter Robinson, John Harvey, Michael Connelly, Ann Cleeves, and Laurie King. There are lots of wonderful new authors coming through too.
What are you reading now?
Deborah Crombie’s ‘No Mark Upon Her’. I’m afraid I’ve fallen behind a bit on her Kincaid and James series!
Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
There’s a new Cooper and Fry novel already written, called ‘Dead in the Dark’. I like to keep the dynamic between the characters moving forward, and there are changes ahead for both Ben and Diane. A lot of readers have been hoping for good news for Ben, and I think he’s finding some happiness now. Diane is always living on the edge, and with the return of her sister Angie into her life I’m afraid she has a crisis coming! Meanwhile, I’m starting work on number 18 in the series, so I’m anxious to see how Diane deals with that crisis
Fun questions: Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
We’re in development for a Cooper and Fry TV series at the moment, so I’m often asked about casting. I thought Aidan Turner might make a good Ben Cooper. Diane Fry is much more complex and difficult…
Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
Walking in the Peak District national park (where my books are set)
And I’m just learning to play the guitar!
Chinese Probably a nice Dim Sum.
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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Stephen Booth and WitnessImpulse. There will be 3 winners of one (1) eBook copy of Secrets of Death by Stephen Booth. The giveaway begins on March 30 and runs through May 1, 2017.