The Crow Trap

by Ann Cleeves; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman

This is the book that launched the hit BBC television series “Vera,” starring Brenda Blethyn.

The iconic Inspector Vera Stanhope — middle-aged, gruff, brilliant and frumpy — doesn’t appear until nearly a third of the way into the book.

The story offers plenty of room to showcase Vera’s investigative skills as well as snapshots of her unconventional childhood.

Three women — Rachael Lambert, Anne Preece and Grace Fulwell — have been hired to do an environmental impact assessment of a proposed industrial quarry on the wildlife around Black Law Farm. They are staying at Baikie’s Cottage on the farm.

They come with more baggage than their suitcases. None are close to each other. Rachael arrives first and discovers the body of Bella, a close friend and one of the owners of the farm, hanging in the tractor barn. A note says she couldn’t take it any more. Her disabled husband is alone in the farm house.

Anne, married to a gay man, has a long-standing reputation for lust and promiscuity. She is in the midst of a lunchtime tryst at the cottage when Grace walks in on her. Hours later, Grace is found dead near an old quarry building.

There are many people and entities with a vested interested in whether the quarry goes through. Black Law Farm is deeply in debt. Personal histories run deep and intense. Loyalties shift like quicksand in this mystery. But no person of interest aligns with motive, opportunity and means to have been the killer.

Vera resorts to a human “crow trap” to draw out the killer. A crow trap uses a crow in a cage with a one-way entrance to attract another crow to enter the cage and thus become trapped itself. Having grown up in the area and been dragged across the landscape by her amateur ornithologist father as a child, she knows the place, the people and the stories.

Ann Cleeves has written a richly detailed mystery with a vivid sense of place and character. Vera is a wonderful character: irreverent of authority, unorthodox, devious, manipulative and relentless in her search for the truth.

Published in 1999, THE CROW TRAP was followed by:

  • TELLING TALES (2005)
  • HIDDEN DEPTHS (2007)
  • SILENT VOICES (2011)
  • THE GLASS ROOM (2012)
  • THE SEAGULL (2017)
  • THE RISING TIDE (2022)

About the Author: Ann Cleeves (1954 – )

Crime writer Ann Cleeves is known for her mystery series set in remote settings in Northumberland or the Shetland Islands.

Two of her four mysteries series — the Inspector Vera Stanhope and Inspector Jimmy Perez series — have been turned into popular BBC television series: “Vera” and “Shetland,” respectively.

Her other series include the naturalist George Palmer-Jones series and the Inspector Ramsay series.

Born in Herefordshire, Cleeves was raised in north Devon. She studied English at the University of Sussex but dropped out. She held a variety of jobs including being a cook at the Fair Isle bird observatory, auxiliary coastguard, probations officer, library outreach worker and child care officer, which provided material for her crime novels.

While cooking at the bird observatory, she met her husband Tim, an ornithologist. Soon after they married, he was appointed warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. With no neighbors or electricity, Ann turned to writing for entertainment. This produced her Palmer-Jones series.

She has written a travel book, SHETLAND (2015) and several standalone novels.

Her work has been recognized by numerous awards and nominations: she won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger in 2006 for her novel RAVEN BLACK. She was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Sunderland in 2014. In 2015, she was the programming chair for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award.  That same year, she was shortlisted for the Dagger in the Library UK Crime Writers’ Association award for an author’s body of work.

Now widowed, she lives in Whitley Bay in Northumberland on the north east coast of England. She has two daughters.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here