Blood on the Tongue is the third book in the police-procedural, murder-mystery series featuring Detective Sergeant Deborah Fry and Detective Constable Ben Cooper written by Stephen Booth set in the Peak District north of Nottingham in Derbyshire. In the first three books there have been three very different but compelling mysteries that Cooper and Fry have successfully solved. The central feature at the heart of these books is the relationship between two very different main characters. Cooper is an insider, while Fry is an outsider; Cooper is well-liked, Fry is not. Cooper is a DC, Fry is a DS (and Cooper’s boss). Cooper grew up in Edendale on a family farm with multiple siblings and a father who was a copper, Fry grew up in foster care in the big city of Manchester with a sister whom she has lost contact with due to addiction.
Booth often gives us access to his protagonists’ thoughts and feelings in order to engage the reader. Fry basically despises everything that (she thinks) Cooper stands for. She views him as a daydreaming Boy Scout who doesn’t really understand the point of policing. He views her as strange and emotionally distant but an efficient cop who doesn’t understand that empathy and cultural competence can improve police outcomes. What I noticed more in Blood on the Tongue than in previous books is that Fry spends a lot more of her mental energy thinking about Cooper than Cooper does thinking about her. Their relationship is somewhat asymmetrical in that regard. Similarly, although they began the series equal in rank, Fry now outranks him, which means their professional relationship is also asymmetrical as well.
There are three main mysteries in Blood on the Tongue: 1) a dead body of an unidentified well-dressed man is found at the side of a road during a massive snow storm after a snow plough hits the corpse; 2) a dead body of a woman who they discover had given birth to a baby within the last two months is also found frozen in the snow (the whereabouts of Baby Chloe becomes the more important mystery here because it seems like the woman died by deliberately exposing herself to the wintry elements); 3) a 57-year-old cold case of the disappearance of a survivor of a World War II plane crash that killed 5 men, including one Polish soldier whose brother still lives in the area, is being actively investigated by the survivor’s attractive Canadian granddaughter trying to clear his name of the ‘deserter’ label. Of course these mysteries lead to other questions/puzzles: Who is Baby Chloe’s father? Will Ben and Allison (the Canadian granddaughter) hook up? Why did Chloe’s mom kill herself? Why do so many of the people involved with the recently discovered dead bodies also have connections to the decades-old crash?
As with all good sequential mystery series, a significant fraction of the appeal of the book is the new information provided about the protagonists Cooper and Fry. Cooper finally bites the bullet and moves out of his family’s farm into an apartment ‘in town.’ He fitfully adapts to living by himself (although he has a stray cat or two as a roommate) and after he moves in he begins to realize that maybe the reason why Fry is so dedicated to her job is the fear of coming home to a lonely, empty apartment. Fry seems to be more and more interested in Cooper, what he’s thinking and what he’s doing (and whom he’s doing it with.) At one point she says to him directly “Sometimes I can’t tell what you’re thinking, Ben.” It’s bizarre to me that as Cooper’s superior officer she thinks she has the right to know his thoughts at all times when he’s on duty! However, at the end of the book her watchful eyes over him probably saved his life after Cooper makes a selfless (and reckless) decision to try and save a suicidal suspect from self-harm. Fry, of course, does the appropriate thing by calling for back-up instead of rushing into help without a clear plan or assessment of the danger of his actions.
Overall, Blood on the Tongue is another excellent entry in what is fast becoming one of my favorites in the genre of British police-procedural murder-mysteries (which experienced readers know is quite a large and varied genre). Readers of books by Peter Robinson, Peter James, Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride and Jane Casey will likely agree with me that the Cooper & Fry series is an enjoyable addition to these lists. And, happily, there are more than a dozen more books in the series for me to read, which I intend to do!
Title: Blood on the Tongue.
Author: Stephen Booth.
Page Length: 400 pages.
Publisher: Witness Impulse.
Date Published: December 3, 2013 (First Published 2002).
Date Read: December 18, 2020.
GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★★ (5.0/5.0).
OVERALL GRADE: A (3.67/4.0).