I’m not sure that I like crime novels where two crimes in a small town turn out not merely to be related, but to connect with international criminal rings. It stretches my ability to believe in the story that I’m reading; my imagination does not keep up with the tale being presented to me. In this instance, Stephen Booth’s book did not flow in a way that I liked, rather it felt staged and each new step felt laboriously constructed.
Scared to Live involves two major crimes: what seems like a professional killing of a reclusive middle-aged woman in a home that resembled a fortress, and a house set alight deliberately, and in which smoke inhalation killed a woman and two of her children. The subplots involve a Bulgarian police officer, human smuggling, a mentally ill character non-compliant with his meds, and a baby of uncertain origins. What might feel like a filled-out story in the hands of other writers seemed here like too much plot for one book, and although it was difficult for the police officers to ferret out the truth, it was also hard for me to follow too many strings through a long maze of pages.
All this, yet I will not say that I disliked the novel. Until the insane web of coincidences descended on the story, I was enjoying the book, especially the depiction of Ben Cooper, the detective with country roots, an exceptionally three-dimensional character whom Booth has painted well. Booth also handled skillfully the mentally-ill character, showing a compassion and understanding of psychosis and hallucinations that is rare in novels.
It’s not a book I would rush to recommend, but those who like complicated thrillers would probably enjoy it very much. I like crime novels that are simpler in their plotting, which is why I read Stephen Booth rarely. This book was not a bad read, but it isn’t memorable either.
Cross-posted to my journal.