The Darkest Evening (D I Vera Stanhope) by Ann Cleeves

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The Darkest Evening (D I Vera Stanhope) by Ann Cleeves

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A cracking story: a toddler found alone in a car in a blizzard and then the mother's body found at Vera's ancestral home. Who would want to murder this young woman? Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: September 2020
Publisher: Macmillan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1509889518

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It was a mercy that DI Vera Stanhope took the wrong turning as she drove home in the blizzard. If she hadn't the car might not have been found until the morning and who knows what would have happened to the toddler strapped into the car seat, particularly as the car door had been left open. Vera took the boy and drove to the nearest habitation. She thought it would be the village but it was Brockburn, the ancestral home of the Stanhopes: her father had been the younger brother of the man who inherited - and Hector was the black sheep of the family. Calling there unannounced, particularly as they seemed to have guests was going to be embarrassing, but there was little else that she could do in the circumstances.

Juliet, Vera's cousin, was now the owner of the house and she was married to Mark Bolitho, a theatre director. They were pitching, over dinner to the wealthy of the neighbourhood in the hope of raising the initial funds to start a theatre at Brockburn. Bolitho saw this as the only way of raising the money to keep the house going - it was looking very tired and in need of attention. The daughters of a local farmer, Neil Heslop, were serving at table and when their father came in the tractor to collect them he discovered the body of Lorna Falstone, mother of the toddler found by Vera.

The little boy, Thomas, was going to grandparents he didn't know, but his grandmother, Jill Falstone, was determined that they would make the best life they could for the boy. Her husband, Robert, had less to say. Vera wasn't concerned about the boy - he was now in a place of safety - but she had to find out who murdered his mother.

I've been saving this book: any Ann Cleeves novel is a treat, but there's something very special about the Vera Stanhope series. She's an unlikely senior detective and a less likely heroine. Late middle age, an excess of weight and no fashion sense does that to a woman but Vera has no objections to being underestimated. She has a good team: her sergeant's Joe Ashworth, steady as a rock, completely loyal to Vera and just a little bit of a misogynist (He wasn't sexist, but some situations were best dealt with by a man.) He needs to be careful though as DC Holly Jackman's light is beginning to shine: she's moving out from under the feeling that Vera is dominating her, ruling her, to knowing that she's working with her.

It's a story about families: what holds them together and what ripped them apart and it's personal to Vera. Everything takes place in a very compact area and it's one that Vera knows well. She visited Brockburn as a child with her father - usually when they needed money - and she's struggling now to distance herself. She knows too that she might be related to young Thomas Falstone. It's borderline as to whether or not she should be handling the case at all.

What a story: it doesn't stop at one death and it's virtually a locked room mystery. Because of the snow on the night of Lorna's murder, the killer must be one of a relatively small number of people, but Ann Cleeves manages to weave a very complex plot out of what didn't look like very promising raw material to start with. A good number of people might almost have had the opportunity, but who would have the motive to want to see this young woman dead? I read the book over a couple of days in the summer and was always faintly surprised when I looked up that I wasn't in a Northumbrian snowstorm and I certainly didn't guess who had killed Lorna. It's a cracker of a book.

If you've read all the Vera Stanhope novels you could always start on the Shetland novels.

Ann Cleeves' D I Vera Stanhope Novels in Chronological Order

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