Death on Dartmoor (Dan Hellier 2) by Bernie Steadman

The bodies in the bog…

😀 😀 😀 😀

DI Dan Hellier thought life in Devon would be quieter than his old job in the Met, but suddenly he finds he’s running two major cases simultaneously. First, enthusiastic amateur archaeologist Elspeth Price fulfils her lifetime ambition by discovering a body in one of Dartmoor’s bogs. But when the forensic expert checks it out, it turns out it’s two bodies and they’re fairly recent. And the fact that they have no heads or hands makes the deaths look a little suspicious! At the same time, some young lads buy some drugs to take at a party. The effect of the drugs is not what it should be though, and instead of getting high, the boys become seriously ill, and one dies. It’s up to Dan and his team to find who’s making and distributing the drugs before some other young person suffers the same fate…

This is a straight police procedural with an authentic feel to it. Dan is the main character but we get to know all of his team through the course of the book, including his superior officer. To my joy, they are likeable, professional and understand the need for teamwork – not a maverick to be seen! We get to know about Dan’s personal life and newish relationship with Claire, whom, as far as I gathered, he met during his last case; and we also get occasional glimpses into the lives of some of the other team members. But the vast majority of the book concentrates on the investigations and I can’t tell you how refreshing I find that after so many books where the crime comes a poor second to the traumas, addictions and abuses of the unrealistic detectives.

The bodies in the bog storyline provides the central mystery. Before they can start working on whodunit, first the team have to find out who the victims were. Steadman shows the painstaking process of checking old missing person reports, using forensic clues, and sifting through the many tips received from the public. The reader is given a clue early on about a connection the police don’t make till much later, which I found a little odd – it rather took away some of the surprise element at the end. However, on thinking back afterwards, I felt that again it made the thing feel more authentic – a sudden twist out of nowhere at the end can often leave me feeling that everything is just a little too convenient.

The second storyline, about the drugs, is less of a mystery. We know pretty quickly the main thrust of who’s running the operation, as do the police, so this part concentrates on how they go about getting the evidence to make charges. Occasionally I felt we got a little too much detail here – again authentic, but it perhaps slows the story down too much. However, there’s still a lot of interest in it, as Steadman shows how vulnerable people can be sucked into criminality against their will and then be unable to find a way out.

The story centres around an animal rescue centre where some of the major characters work, so just a quick reassurance to my fellow squeamish people – no animals are harmed in the making of this book. They’re not even put in peril, so I had no problems with reading about this aspect at all. In fact, there are a couple of fun scenes regarding one of the cats which brought a smile to my feline-loving heart.

Bernie Steadman

The book is told in the third person, past tense, has, if I recall correctly, no swearing whatsoever, and although there is some fairly strong violence, it’s not gruesomely graphic and fits with the story. All of which proves, if proof were needed, that it’s perfectly possible to tell a gritty story without disgusting or offending your audience, or normalising language that would make a docker blush.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it would have undoubtedly got the full five stars from me had the pace not got bogged down from time to time by including a little too much detail on procedures. It’s somewhat gentler in style than much of contemporary crime, but far too gritty and realistic in plotting to fall into cosy territory, all of which works well for me. Dan is an excellent lead character, his team are likeable and well enough drawn to develop their own individuality, and there’s a good deal of gentle humour in their interactions which helps to lift the tone and keep the book entertaining. I shall certainly be looking forward to seeing how this series progresses.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Bloodhound Books.

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29 thoughts on “Death on Dartmoor (Dan Hellier 2) by Bernie Steadman

    • Thank you! I was so glad the animals weren’t used to up the tension – I’m so soft-hearted about them. Whereas people being murdered and dismembered doesn’t bother me at all! So long as they’re fictional… 😉

  1. This sounds like a jolly good book to me! Thank goodness for realistic detectives, too. I think a decent police procedural needs believable detectives or the whole thing feels a bit off. Save the eccentric investigators for the cosies and the deeply flawed detectives for noir-type novels, or those that don’t really have much in the way of original plot so have to rely upon such things for drama. My, that was a bit catty for me – I obviously need more chocolate 🙂

    • I do like a standard police procedural form time to time, with ordinary, decent human beings as the police! I have this strange desire for the villains to be morally worse than the police…! 😉 Hahaha – couldn’t agree more about the plot – if the detective’s addiction problems are the most exciting thing in the book then something’s wrong… still, if it’s an excuse for more chocolate… 😁

  2. This one sounds right up my street, FictionFan! And I like it very much that the police team members work together and don’t have the ‘maverick syndrome.’ Good to hear that the animals are safe, too! I’m with you on that particular thing. The setting sounds solidly done, too. I have to put this one on the wish list…

    • I do love a good police procedural where the focus is on the plot rather than on the detective’s addiction problems or messed-up love life! And I was so pleased that the animals weren’t used to up the tension. All-in-all, a very good book and I’ll be looking out for the rest of the series… 😀

  3. How funny, I just bought the first book in this series yesterday – it popped up on my “recommended for you” list on Kindle. Technology really scares me sometimes!

    • Ha! I was looking at book 1 myself last night, but decided to hold off till my TBR drops a bit. But I think this will be a series I’ll be following… enjoy!

  4. Oh, now this one sounds just about perfect for summertime reading (or really, for any time of year!). I especially love your statement, “normalising language that would make a docker blush.” Brilliant!!

    • I thoroughly enjoyed it, Debbie – so refreshing to have some normal detectives! Haha – that’s a kind of saying over here, though I’ve always wondered if dockers really do blush… 😉

  5. Thats a good point about the trend to focus on the personal stories of the detectives rather than the crime they are meant to be solving. it’s getting a bit tiresome that every detective has to have some kind of personal crisis or issue

    • I must admit I’m totally fed up with detectives whose problems take up more space than the plot. I think that’s why I’ve become so addicted to vintage crime recently.

  6. I was always under the impression that detectives typically have multiple cases at once, but most crime books suggest they do one case at a time. It’s nice to see this detective has a lot on his plate, especially since I was also under the impression that a lot of detecting is about waiting for test results, etc. They need to fill the time, right?

    • Yes, that’s why I don’t think police procedurals can ever really be entirely realistic or else they become entirely dull too. It’s getting the balance right that’s tricky – having the results come back more quickly than in real life and getting the whole case solved in a couple of weeks… this one more or less achieves it.

    • Ha! I like an occasional mild maverick too, but honestly, some of them these days are so addicted and angst-ridden it’s amazing they can even get out of bed in the mornings… 😉

  7. I am a big fan of straightforward police procedural and I appreciate the lack of gratuitous violence – I’m listening to an audio book (by an author I’ve previously enjoyed) and finding the descriptions hard to stomach! This sounds like a winner on most counts…

    • Oh, yes, it’s much tougher when it’s an audiobook, isn’t it? Seems to go directly into your brain or something! I think that’s why I usually end up listening to the likes of Agatha Christie or PG Wodehouse. This one would work great as an audiobook though, I think. 🙂

  8. I am SHOCKED to hear there is no strange quirks to the detective(s). What a novel thought! I actually want to read this book just for that reason, it’s so unique!

  9. I’m not a big reader of contemporary crime but this does sound good, and lacking a lot of what puts me off modern crime (gore, maverick cops). I love the West Country too, so that’s a bonus!

    • I did enjoy spending some time with some normal detectives for a change – the kind who you can actually understand why they haven’t been sacked! And Dartmoor always seems like the ideal place for murder to me… 😀

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