What’s the plot?
A publishing executive is found murdered in the conservatory at a secluded house where a writer’s course is being held. Vera Stanhope arrives at the scene after working out that her next door neighbour, who had been reported missing, was attending the course in secret. The missing neighbour was the person who found the body and was discovered holding a blood stained knife. It looks like she’s the murderer, but did she really do it?
Where is it set?
It is set in coastal Northumberland.
Who is the main characters?
DI Vera Stanhope and her sidekick DS Joe Ashworth. This is the fifth book in the series.
How well is it written?
I would give it 10/10 for structure, plotting, narrative etc and there are no editorial mistakes which makes it well written for me. However, I found it extremely irritating that the character of Vera Stanhope was constantly being described and fleshed out in this book. I suspect it’s because the earlier stories have been made for TV now and this is the first book to be published since the viewing public have been introduced to the stories, so the author is redefining Vera for those people. The original Vera wasn’t so much of a comedy character as she appears in this book, and I think it’s because the way she is portrayed on screen is significantly different to the way she is described in the books, and this is an attempt to reclaim or redraw the character. I always had it in my head that Vera was a sort of Margaret Rutherford type character, a bit like when she played Miss Marple, and the screen version is quite different to that.
My overall impression?
Great setting, fantastic descriptive passages about the bleakness of the location and the moodiness of the writers on the course and a different tone of book than the previous 4 in this series. This one is almost in homage to Agatha Christie – a typical locked room/remote location murder, limited number of suspects and a big, bluff investigator in the shape of Vera Stanhope. There was a departure from the established character of Joe Ashworth too in this book which I didn’t quite believe. He was attracted to one of the suspects, but from the way his character has been portrayed in the first 4 books I felt it was out of character for him. Again, was this because of the possible new readership after it being on TV? I was let down by the ending a little too. It was very clumsy and very clunky and the revelation of the murderer was completely out of the blue. There were no red herrings along the way and there were no clues to his identity, so when it was revealed who it was and the reasons for it, I was disappointed that I hadn’t had the chance to work it out for myself.
What I like about these books is that the local dialect and the remoteness of the landscape shine throughout them all. The location is almost a character in itself.
I also like the way the relationship between Vera and Joe has grown and developed throughout the series so far. They started out as boss and sidekick but as time and cases have gone on, Vera is starting to realise that Joe is much more than a work colleague and a subordinate and she treats him almost as a surrogate son. As she starts thinking about retirement and being alone when she’s given up the job, her reliance on Joe is getting more and more. It’s great to see how they interact with each other.
Will I read the next in the series?
Absolutely yes. I’m not sure I like the way the characters of Vera and Joe have changed in this one, but I love the way Ann Cleeves writes, and I can’t wait to get back to the wilds of the north east again.
Would I recommend it to my friends?
Yes. You could read this one as a standalone book (because of the reiteration of character markers I mentioned above) but it’s probably better that you read them from the start of the series to get the maximum impact of it. I promise you will fall in love with the location.