Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves

If you've been catching Ann Cleeves' police procedural series "Vera" on Netflix, you're in for a treat. Readers in the U.S. finally have access to the series, although Silent Voices, the first to be released here, is actually the fourth in the series. For those of you determined to read a series in order, you can start with Silent Voices and quickly learn to recognize Inspector Vera Stanhope as the true character she is. And, if you're lucky enough to have seen the TV episodes, it's even easier to pick up the voice of Vera as you read.

Inspector Vera Stanhope of the Northumbria Police  is not the type to work out, but following doctor's orders, she slipped away from work and went to the Willows to swim. After she found a woman's body in the steam room, though, it was easy for her team to guess what she did there. It wasn't as easy to guess what Vera was going to say to people as she plowed ahead in a murder investigation. And, she could work a case at all hours because, unlike her sergeant, Joe Ashworth, she doesn't have a personal life.

As Vera and Joe investigate, it appears that Jenny Lister, the victim, was perfect, a social worker, a woman with a loving daughter, and a woman so principled that she testified against one of her co-workers in a case when a child was killed by his mother. That co-worker, Connie Masters, was the center of a media campaign during the course of the mother's trial. Connie just happened to be living in the same town as Jenny when Lister was killed. Coincidence or more? It's just one track Vera Stanhope takes as she investigates. However, Vera knew that "principles don't always make you popular".

As in the award-winning Shetland Island series, Cleeves does a superb job entangling readers in a complex mystery dependent on characters. As Vera probes the characters of her suspects, she uncovers secrets that lead to the solution. However Vera Stanhope herself is the richest character in the book. She's revealed through her own thoughts, her actions, and Joe Ashworth's observations of his boss. She's a homely woman and lonely, but she enjoys being the center of attention. She has a chip on her shoulder, and never felt comfortable with the intellectual classes. And she pokes fun at Joe for his attention to family and appearances. At the same time, she has a hard time reading the texts on her phone because she's too vain and too disorganized to go for an eye exam. She knows her own weaknesses, and sometimes thinks Joe represents her feminine side because he's much more empathetic than she is. She's brusque and pushy at times. And, with her own troubled childhood, she recognizes that this case is "All about families, the weird ties between kids and their parents."

Vera Stanhope sums herself up when she questions why two people died. "But I want to know why, Vera thought....I do care about motive. I'm a nosy bitch and it's what I'm in the job for."

Fans of British police procedurals, and readers who miss Reginald Hill's Superintendent Andy Dalziel, will welcome Ann Cleeves' Vera Stanhope. She's a welcome addition to the world of British crime fiction with her pushiness, her attitude, and her determination to find answers. It's all in character studies, for a talented author, and a talented police investigator. It's time Vera Stanhope and Silent Voices made their appearances in the U.S.

Ann Cleeves' website is

Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves. Minotaur. 2013. ISBN 9781250033581 (hardcover), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Beth Hoffman said...

Excellent review, Lesa. You've hooked me!

caite said...

I loved the Shetland series...going to have to check this out. Just what I need..another

Jane R said...

I've had the British TV series on my radar for a few weeks and didn't realize it is based on a book series (I should have known better!). After reading your review, I plan to check out both the books and the films. Thanks!

Lesa said...

And, the TV series is terrific, too, Beth.

Lesa said...


I totally agree with you. As if I need another series. But, I really liked this book.

Lesa said...

You're right, Jane. The British do an excellent job adapting mysteries.

Reine said...

So glad you reviewed this, Lesa. Embarrassed to say that I hadn't heard of the series or the author. Off to find Silent Voices, now.