An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.
What a fine read this is for fans of Vera Stanhope DI and for those yet to discover this great series what better way to start. Vera and her team have to be on top form to figure out what is behind the murders of two apparently unconnected men in a secluded Northumbrian valley.
In the valley along a narrow lane lie a Hall, a small development of the converted farmhouse & two barn conversions together with an old estate worker's bungalow. The residents of the Hall are away in Australia, while the new development is home to three retired couples all living the good life. However, they all have their problems despite the outward appearances. For one couple, in particular, the next few days will be charged with emotions as their daughter is due to be released from prison at the weekend.
While the absent owners of the Hall are away they have employed a house sitter, a young academic. He is the first victim found by the retired estate worker on his way home from the pub, in the lane leading into the valley. Then another body is found stabbed to death in the house sitter's flat in the Hall. This body is of a middle aged man dressed in a suit. Two apparently random killings linked only by the location.
The way that the details of the victims, the lives they led and their character are painstakingly built up by information gathering and questioning is so brilliantly done. Each new peice of the jigsaw is examined from every angle by Vera and her team. At the briefing sessions the team review evidence gathered to see how it could fit into the known facts. The only link appears to be a shared interest in entomology and, in particular, the study of moths. The investigation holds your imagination, you can feel that they are closing in, yet for all the information it is not clear who is in the frame.
The valley setting, the few houses and their small group of retired residents are all used to create a confined and often claustrophobic atmosphere. Ann Cleeves clothes the rural idyll with tensions and fear as the investigation delves ever more deeply into their world. There must be something that connects one of them to the two men. Why were two harmless Moth enthusiasts murdered in this place.
The detective team of Vera, Joe and Holly are brought to life by the superbly drawn characters, through their interactions with each other and perhaps even more so by their unspoken thoughts. Vera is a real character, certainly nothing like the current crop of young, up to date detectives we are often treated to these days. The single-minded DI, who finds herself only really alive and motivated by a murder case. Vera is a rather large, unfit, middle aged woman who looks as though she ought to be spending time behind a desk and thinking of retirement. But, instead she prefers to get results by being out in the field and still gets a buzz from the detail of investigation. Joe the DS, family man with young children trying to juggle family with the commitment required of him by his boss and Holly the DC, bright young woman wondering if the police force is really what she wants from life.
I expect that most readers will know of Vera Stanhope from the ITV series "Vera". It is a very good series fictional detective series, but to me the books are better. You can create your own images of place and people from Ann Cleeves' words. Obvious, I know but still true.
Another marvellous mystery for Vera to unravel and for us to enjoy.