RogerBW's Blog

The Crow Trap, Ann Cleeves 18 February 2022

1999 mystery, first in Cleeves' Vera Stanhope series. Rachel, Anne and Grace are working on an environmental study in the North Pennines, where the landowner's planning to reopen an old quarry. Their nearby neighbour, a woman with a disabled husband, apparently hangs herself, though it seems very out of character for her. And still waters are running very deep…

I was rather put off Cleeves' Shetland Island series by Blue Lightning, so I've jumped back in her career to the previous series (though she's kept this one going in parallel with the Shetland books). And while this does do the job of telling us something about the protagonist, it doesn't feel like the first of a series; Stanhope only turns up after the second death, nearly half-way through the book, and large chunks of the narrative follow the environmental scientists not only in their daily lives on the study but flashing back into their backgrounds and other activity. There is an honest mystery with clues and motivations and things, but it feels sometimes as though that were the obligatory scaffolding on which Cleeves could hang her rather good descriptions of people. There are plenty of other individual stories which brush against these deaths, and most of them are not neatly wrapped up at the end.

There are genuinely unpleasant people, and nice people who just can't cope, and people who might be nice if they didn't have these blasted murders to solve, and all of them have secrets which will be gradually extracted for the reader if not for the police… it's all rather slow-moving at times, though having "read" this as an audiobook I could allow myself to get lost in the lovely writing rather than becoming impatient.

Stanhope is a detective inspector, but there's not much police procedure here; she's much more in the lone investigator mould, though she isn't much of a Holmesian genius, more someone with a lot of persistence, a refusal to worry about being thought rude, and occasional local insights. I rather enjoyed this, even though it was spread over several months since I mostly listen to audiobooks when I'm driving – I started this one after I finished Red Rising in October.

(I'm told there's been a TV series made of these books. I haven't seen it. I may watch it once I've read enough that books and series have diverged, but I said that about Phryne Fisher and I haven't yet watched any of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.)

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Series: Vera Stanhope | Next in series: Telling Tales

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