RogerBW's Blog

Telling Tales, Ann Cleeves 17 November 2022

2005 contemporary police mystery, second in Cleeves' Vera Stanhope series. Ten years ago, Emma's friend Abigail was murdered, and Emma found the body. The woman convicted of the crime always maintained her innocence… and now she's hanged herself. Old secrets will be dug up once more…

And hoo boy there are a lot of them. Emma's husband is a pilot working on the Humber (the story is set in a small village near the river mouth), and he has secrets. Her parents live nearby (her father got a bad case of God and moved the family to the middle of nowhere), and they have secrets. Abigail's father has secrets, as did Abigail herself. The original conviction was desperately unsafe, but it meant a child-murder was followed by an imprisonment, so nobody asked too many questions at the time. And so on…

There's an awful lot to unravel here, in fact, lots of lovely deep people with nobody an unmixed hero or villain, and my only real regret is that we don't get to see the ends of all their stories too. We do get plenty of Vera Stanhope, using her lack of charm as an investigative tool, but even she has some dark nights of the soul on her way to the eventual resolution.

As in The Crow Trap Vera makes a relatively late entrance, and we spend quite a bit of narrative time with other people. Also as in that book, one can't help get a certain impression from Cleeves that most of the stupid, as opposed to merely greedy, things that men do come from wanting the wrong woman.

It's all quite slow-paced even though the book isn't particularly long, and it rewards a bit of a wallow. No need for an action-packed climax here: Vera's detective work is not the flash of inspiration but the mechanical inevitability of sorting things out. Recommended.

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Previous in series: The Crow Trap | Series: Vera Stanhope | Next in series: Hidden Depths

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