By Ann Cleeves
Family life threads through this novel like twinkle lights in a Christmas tree. Loud, happy families. Silent, cold families. Conflicted families. Informal families. Work families.
Lost on a snowy evening, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope sees a car driven off the road with the driver’s door hanging open.
The car isn’t damaged. The position of a seat suggests it was driven by a short woman. Vera takes the keys and is about to leave a note, when she sees a baby in in the back seat.
With no cell service, she takes the baby and heads for the closest house to call her team to start finding the child’s mother. The first house she sees is Brockburn, the family home of the Stanhopes. While the house may have been home to Vera’s father Hector and his two older brothers, Hector, and by extension Vera, have long been estranged from the rest of the family.
Brightly lit, the house is full of guests invited for a fund-raiser.
As she calls her team, tractor headlights stop outside the back window near where Vera stands. The farmer driving it, Neil Heslop, there to collect his daughters who were helping to serve dinner, announces he’s found a dead woman. The body is that of Lorna Falstone, the unmarried single mother of the baby Vera found in the car.
Set in the frosty weeks before Christmas, this, the ninth Vera Stanhope mystery, is atmospheric and suspenseful. Lorna Falstone turns out to be secretive and reserved. Not even her mother or a close neighbor know who the child’s father is. There are plenty of handsome men to suspect. Vera, with her canny eye and lifelong knowledge of the community stays three steps ahead of her team. It doesn’t save her from a near fatal attack by the murderer, but it makes for exciting reading.
This is vintage Vera and offers a reader just what he or she expects. It’s neither predictable nor imitative of prior books. At its heart is the ever fascinating character of Vera herself, middle-aged, dumpy, easy for witnesses, suspects and perpetrators alike to chat with and prickly when people get too close.
About the Author: Ann Cleeves (1954 – )
Ann Cleeves is a British crime writer noted for her stories set in Northumberland and the Shetland Islands.
After dropping out of the University of Sussex where she was studying English, she held a variety of jobs including cook at the Fair Isle bird observatory, auxiliary coastguard, probation officer, library outreach worker and child care officer.
Her first novel, A BIRD IN THE HAND, the first of her Palmer-Jones series, was published in 1986. Her Vera Stanhope series has been turned into a television series, starring Brenda Blethyn, that premiered in May 2011. Her Shetland Island series featuring Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, was made into a television series in 2013.
She lives in Whitley Bay, a town on the north east coast of England in Northumberland, about 10 miles east of Newcastle upon Tyne. She is a widow with two daughters.