Despite the fact that Ann Cleeves has published twenty-five novels since 1986, this is the first of her books I’ve read, and that’s probably thanks to the excellent TV series Vera, starring Brenda Blethyn.
Set in the northeast of England, this book evokes my home area very well: Foxhunters, Whitley Bay, Seaton Sluice, North Shields, Morpeth and Newcastle.
Julie Armstrong arrives home after a night out to discover her young son strangled, laid out in a bath of water and covered with wild flowers. And all that evening his sister was asleep in the next room. It’s a tantalising case for Inspector Vera Stanhope, the fat and ungainly and deceptively gauche copper. Not long after, another body is found, and this time it’s a young woman in a rock pool, again covered in flowers.
Vera’s ably helped by Joe Ashworth and the rest of her team, even though ‘she scared the pants off most of them; even those who shouted their mouths off in the police canteen were too timid to commit themselves to an opinion which Vera might consider foolish.’ As they investigate the local bird ringing club and friends of the dead woman, undercurrents of guilt, incompetence and adultery muddy the waters. The characters are rich and have depth, the plot is convoluted, but it all seems very real, down-to-earth without being gratuitous or offensively gritty.
As I read this book, I could hear Blethyn speak Vera’s words, a tribute to Cleeves and the actress and also the scriptwriters who have captured the essence of the book. I’ll certainly be reading more books by Ann Cleeves.
To date, there are only five Vera Stanhope novels - The Crow Trap (1999), Telling Tales (2005), Hidden Depths (2007), Silent Voices (2011) and The Glass Room (2012). Cleeves has been busy on another series, The Shetland Island Quartet, Raven Black (2006) which won the Gold Dagger Award, White Nights (2008), Red Bones (2009) and Blue Lightning (2010), and these books are being filmed for TV too, starring Douglas Henshall as Detective Jimmy Perez.
This review was published in a local magazine in November, 2012.
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014