The Devil’s Edge is a huge rocky ridge in the Peak District. In Stephen Booth’s foreboding and atmospheric murder story, the moorland area above it makes the hero, Ben Cooper, feel as though someone were ‘walking over his grave’. The Edge is compared to a fortress wall, one that should protect the middle-class, rather un-neighbourly village of Riddings from invaders. The trouble is, the Edge isn’t doing its job.
One very well-off couple, Zoe and Jake Barron, have had their heads caved in. She’s dead and he’s on the critical list in what seems to be the latest of a series of home ‘invasions’ that have got nastier, escalating from assaults in high-value homes to brutal murder. The press has dubbed the perpetrators the ‘Savages’.
This is the eleventh novel in Booth’s award-winning series about Cooper and his colleague, Diane Fry. Here they are separated for much of the story, as Fry is seconded onto a boring management-training scheme. When they are reunited they have a frosty relationship built on their different backgrounds and outlooks. Newly promoted Det Sgt Cooper now runs her old team, she is a little resentful, but later is able to help Cooper when he faces a potentially career-scuppering private crisis.
Cooper is sometimes an impulsive detective, something that does not endear him to his superiors, and he needs all his instincts on this case. He and his CID colleagues from Edendale have no suspects or leads after talking to the villagers. The community is on edge, so to speak, and the case is perplexing. All that was taken a purse and mobile – not much for such a violent break-in.
The most vivid character is the moorland on top of the edge, reminiscent of Dartmoor in The Hound of the Baskervilles in that it is an ominous place. Booth devotes a lot of time to creating a vivid portrait of the wild moors. Cooper walks there and imagines hobs and boggarts down the burrows, or that a stag sniffing the air senses evil. There are adders and lizards all about.
Another major theme of the novel is the changing countryside, with the displacement of farming communities by wealthy outsiders. Riddings is an alienated community, with fenced-off £2.5m properties, extravagant gates and security cameras. No pub, no post office, no soul. Just hostility, with nasty arguments about dogs and boundaries. If there is something primitive and mythical about the moors, it is mirrored in the greed and territoriality of the lottery winner, the snooper, the disgraced teacher and others in the village.
The Devil’s Edge is a sharply drawn mystery, with a setting that should linger in the reader’s thoughts for a long time.