One Last Breath, by Stephen Booth

Another mystery, this one set in Derbyshire where a prisoner has just been released after serving the mandatory thirteen years of his life sentence. Unrepentant, Mansell Quinn turns his back on the plans his probation officer has made and heads home. His ex-wife and old mates are still living in a cluster of villages—Edendale, Aston, Castleton, Ashbourne—within the area policed by DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry. I enjoyed the previous book in this series, Blind to the Bones especially the accuracy of his portrayal of morris dancers, both border morris and Cotswold. I found this book equally full of local color and fueled by a complex puzzle. I could have used a map, though, to help me keep clear the names of the villages and their relationship to each other.

In the opening chapter, Ben Cooper discovers that he is claustrophobic. He’s volunteered to help out with a cave rescue simulation in Peak Cavern, a tourist spot with many caves too dangerous for tourists. One of my brothers and his partner teach cave rescue. I haven’t run this book by them, but they did tell me that Nevada Barr’s Blind Descent (much of which was based on a real rescue in Lechiguilla in which my brother participated) was very accurate. Ben’s experience certainly felt real to me.

The way a phobia can come on suddenly in adulthood is interesting. For me it was acrophobia. After a childhood of climbing trees and walking along cliffs, I found myself at 36 at the top of Durham Cathedral, utterly unable to walk back down the stairs. Just looking down them made me feel faint. I was beginning to think I would have to spend the rest of my life up there, when a young boy—maybe seven or eight years old—came puffing up the stairs in his shorts and blazer. After letting him take a good look around, I asked if he would help me down the stairs, which he did, politely leading me by the hand while I kept my eyes closed.

I’m no expert, but it seems to me that at least one factor in this adult-onset phobia is that as adults we know all too well the risks we are taking. We’ve lost that childish sense of invulnerability. I believe it was Martina Navratilova (one of my idols) who mentioned in an interview that she no longer played all-out like the young tennis wonders because she was too conscious of the possibility of injury. That strategy has paid off for her by enabling her to continue competing long after the age when others retire. However, she hasn’t lost any of her competitive spirit, as I saw when she played in Pam Shriver’s Tennis Challenge this week. Although they were just exhibition matches (to benefit children’s charities), Martina couldn’t seem to resist slamming a winner across the net or fussing with herself for missing a shot.

Well, it’s a long way from a cave in Derbyshire to a tennis match in Baltimore, but how to handle fear, how much to give in to it, how to weigh the risks against the rewards—something to think about.

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