HarperCollins, £10/£10 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

One Last Breath, by Stephen Booth

An old-fashioned cop on the Devil's Staircase

Stephen Booth is steadily building up a reputation as a writer who shapes his work along the lines of the traditional crime story, but endows it with a literary strength that lifts it above the general ruck. This novel takes another step in that direction.

Stephen Booth is steadily building up a reputation as a writer who shapes his work along the lines of the traditional crime story, but endows it with a literary strength that lifts it above the general ruck. This novel takes another step in that direction.

In One Last Breath, the overarching metaphor is an ancient one: burial alive, death by suffocation. Early on, Booth's regular copper, DC Ben Cooper, gets trapped in a cave. Forced into a narrow crevice, he is horribly aware of millions of tons of Derbyshire rock over his head. Here in the huge caverns of the Peak District are natural phenomena known as the Devil's Staircase and Bottomless Pit, where calcination can rapidly overwhelm any object, turning it literally to stone. That includes the human body.

Other characters suffer from asthma, or breathing difficulties, struggling to stay alive and enviously watching those for whom the next gulp of air presents no problems. Taoism, as Booth comments, believes that you are born containing all the breath you will ever possess, and every exhalation takes you nearer death.

In this claustrophobic setting roams the figure of Mansell Quinn, an escaped "lifer" who stabbed his lover. There were strange features about that death: the murder was apparently not committed, as one might expect, by the lover's jealous husband. And where exactly was the schoolgirl daughter when the crime was discovered?

Quinn seems to be hunting down all those who helped to "put him away": his ex-wife, old cronies who gave evidence, and the policemen involved. One was Ben Cooper's now-dead father, the officer first on the scene. Will Quinn's hatred transfer from father to son? The question also arises of whether Cooper senior interfered with evidence for what used to be known in old-fashioned policing as "noble cause": the nailing of someone believed to be a villain, whether the true facts would stand up in court or not.

Alongside Cooper works DS Diane Fry, privately absorbed with her sister Angie, a drug-addict trying to kick the habit, who has moved in and is disrupting her tidy life. The relationship between Cooper and Fry is characterised by Fry's clear-sightedness, her understanding that he needs to prove the truth of the heroic image of his father. The irony is that although "people must have flaws before you can love them properly", she cannot apply this to her own relationships. Once again, the mutual comprehension these two sympathetic people are seeking is in danger of collapse.

The plot has a complex working-out dependent on character as much as technicalities. When so many crime writers are trendily featuring DNA, it is satisfying to have a policeman who can remember that people matter as well as chromosome profiles, and a crime writer who gives a satisfying read rather than a quick fix.

The reviewer's 'In the Kingdom of Mists' is published by Black Swan

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'