Welcome to the Short Story Saturday and the seventh review in this new series. This week’s review is of ‘Claws’ by crime novelist Stephen Booth. It is the longest of the stories I have reviewed so far at, I estimate, c. 15,000 words.
Amazon.co.uk’s description of Stephen’s book reads: “Derbyshire Police Detective DC Ben Cooper is on assignment to the Rural Crime Squad to investigate wildlife crime. On the wild Peak District moorlands, Cooper steps into the middle of a conflict that has been raging for years over one of the most prized landscapes in the National Park. Many lives are at stake. And, in this battle, not all the victims are human.”
The shortest hooks are often the most catching and this story’s, ‘The bones were tiny’, certainly grabbed me.
I’d not read the back cover blurb or Amazon’s description before starting the book and you would have thought that the title and seeing a bird on the front cover should have given it away, but my first thought that they were children’s bones and although I soon learned of the true origin, the story was so compassionately narrated that I felt equal affinity to them, and compelled to read on.
Having read Stephen’s writing before, and met / interviewed him, I know his work to be dark (which I love, and write) yet he gives a light touch to his characters. There is a warmth to even the strangest of creatures, in this case bird collector Kevin Hewitt, and although he is the antagonist in ‘Claws’ there are instances where I felt sorry for him. Only just.
A good story entertains and educates and it ticked both boxes for me. Although I have been to the Peak District a few times I know little of the area and the policing that is involved. I was carried along with the description of the procedures rather than bogged down by them and found it really interesting.
My favourite line of the book was at the end of chapter 1: “She did speak to us,” said Cooper. “Around here, that means we’re practically best friends.” It shows the skill of such a writer to create subtle humour within their characters, and the rapport between DC Cooper and his colleague PC Tracy Udall would make me want to read other books featuring them, which I’d say is the success of any piece, especially such a short one.
And the downside? There wasn’t one, it’s an easy read, although I did spot a typo on page 38.
‘Claws’ is one of a series of Crime Express, priced at an RRP of £4.99, of a similar stature to ‘Quick Reads’. Others in the Five Leaves Publishing’s Crime Express range include Ray Banks’ ‘California’, Danuta Reah’s ‘Not Safe’, Rod Duncan’s ‘Mentalist’, John Harvey’s ‘Trouble in Mind’, and Charlie Williams’ ‘Graven Image’. ‘Claws’ is available from Westlea Books in various formats, as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk (£3.69), and as an ebook from Reader Store and Smashwords ($0.99), Amazon.co.uk (£0.72) and wherever good books are sold (as the saying goes).
A former newspaper journalist, Stephen Booth is the creator of two young Derbyshire police detectives, DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry, who have so far appeared in 11 crime novels, all set in England’s beautiful and atmospheric 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 as a TV series. The most recent title is The Devil’s Edge. His other books include Lost River, The Kill Call, One Last Breath, and Blind to the Bones.
Biography taken from my interview with Stephen last October – which you can read here.
UPDATE FROM STEPHEN VIA TWITTER: “15,000 words is spot on, Morgen. That was the specification for a Crime Express title, though it’s been extended since.” Woo hoo!
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with writer, editor and publisher Kim Maya Sutton – the three hundred and nineteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore and Kobo. And I have a new forum at http://morgenbailey.freeforums.org.