BILL ON BOOKS: Excellent books set on Derbyshire’s streets

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Crime fiction fans will already be familiar with Stephen Booth’s excellent crime series about detective duo Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, set in Derbyshire. They may not already know about Steven Dunne’s nail-biting crime series about DI Damen Brook, also set in Derbyshire.

Stephen Dunne’s latest novel is called “Deity”, which is the third in the series. DI Brook is confronted by two apparently unrelated incidents: the disappearance of a small group of teenagers and the discovery of a number of partially mummified bodies in local rivers. It’s not until much further on in the story that the connection between the two becomes clear. The author cleverly keeps the reader guessing right up to the end, thanks to a whole host of skillfully drawn characters, neither squeaky clean nor purely evil, and many twists and turns in the tale. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Damen Brook is one of those detectives that lives for his work. He is divorced and lives alone in Hartington with an empty fridge in the kitchen and a desire to quit smoking, but a lack of will power in that direction. He struggles with new technology and his mobile phone is an old model, the number for which only one of his colleagues knows. He is in the same mould as Rebus or Wallander.

Steven told me that he first became interested in crime writing in the 1980s when he read “Silence of the Lambs”, which ‘blew him away’. He says that much of literature “lacks a purpose and meanders along or fizzles out”. Crime novels, on the other hand, have a point and “a particular conclusion, even if you’re trying to obscure that conclusion until the denouement”.

The first in the Damen Brook series is called “The Reaper”, which Steven Dunne tells me he self-published , commissioning just 2000 copies to begin with. It was only when he managed to get some copies into Waterstone’s that it began to take off and eventually it was taken up by Harper Collins. Steven says that it took several years to get an industry deal. “You have to have faith in your work. If you don’t, nobody else will” he told me. The second in the series is called “The Disciple”.

A particular feature about the Damen Brook novels is the how true to life they are. As well as being meticulously researched, especially when it comes to police procedures and forensic detail, Dunne uses real place and street names mainly from the Derby itself and the surrounding area. Steven says: “I think it gives the reader a stake in what’s going on. Having originally self-published, I knew that my first market was readers in Derby so I was keen to get local people interested in what I imagined might be happening on their street.”

I can reveal that the fourth in the Damen Brook series is now with the publishers. Steven Dunne says: “It is called “The Unquiet Grave” and sees Brook in the division’s bad books, forced to abandon active cases and trawl through the ancient history of cold case files. Needless to say he uncovers forgotten crimes that not only were unsolved but that no-one knew had taken place.” That’s for 2013. In the meantime , try the first three in the series, available in bookshops and online, as e-books and in print.

Recommended read

Hinterland by Caroline Brothers is the story of two brothers, Aryan and Kabir, aged 14 and 8, who have left their home country of Afghanistan to escape the rule of the Taliban. It’s a never-ending struggle to survive and avoid the authorities on their journey to England. Their final barrier is the channel crossing, the most dangerous stage of the whole journey. It’s stark, heart-wrenching and, above all, compelling.

Local Book of the Month

In Scarcliffe Parish Church is an effigy in magnesium limestone of the Lady Constantia. It is said to be one of the best preserved memorials from the Early English Period (around 1200 AD) in the country. The legend has it that Lady Constantia became lost in the forest near Scarcliffe and was guided to safety by the sound of the church bells.

In gratitude she bequeathed land the rent from which would pay for the bells to be rung every day in perpetuity. Mystery still surrounds the true identity of Lady Constantia. Trevor Skirrey’s book “The Legendary Lady Constantia of Scarcliffe” brings together what has been discovered about her over the years and describes the recent restoration of the effigy. The book is available for loan from Derbyshire Libraries and can be bought at St. Leonard’s church

Next month I’ll have some suggestions for books as Christmas presents – in the meantime if you have come across a book you think is really great, let me know at billpurdue@rocketmail.com.