Monday, September 28, 2020

The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves

While Ann Cleeves always makes a reader feel sympathy for the victim, in this latest Vera Stanhope novel, The Darkest Evening, it was Vera who moved me. She has never seemed so vulnerable, so lonely. Even her team recognized that this case was personal for Vera, although they could never say it to her.

In the first couple pages, we meet a young woman, Lorna, with a young son that she has fought for fiercely. We know little about her, other than she was once ill and overcame it, and now has a young son. It's just before Christmas, and it's nasty weather. 

When Vera is lost in the blizzard, and comes across a stranded car with a baby in the backseat, we know where it's heading, that something happened to the boy's mother. But, it's Vera's panic at being lost that we feel. When she can take on her persona as a police officer and rescue the baby, she overcomes her fear. Then, she's forced to face her family past when she shows up at Brockburn, the family estate of the Stanhopes, where she and her outcast father, Hector, were not welcome in her younger years. Even though she's not fond of the family, and knows Harriet, her aunt, always looked down on them, she's willing to speak up and confront them on behalf of the child. Then, when a farmer finds a young woman's body outside the backdoor of the house, it's a murder case, and Vera can call in her team, and step into her role in life.

The Darkest Evening appears to be a case connected to the village, the Stanhopes, to family. When there's another murder, Vera is angry that she brushed aside the victim. She already had her suspects, and didn't pay attention. When the man who discovered the corpse leads Vera and her officer, Holly Jackman, to the victim, Vera handles it professionally, and stays with the corpse. That night, Vera feels her age and her vulnerability.

As always, Cleeves' books are complex. There are red herrings that set Vera's team and the reader off in the wrong direction. Just once, I had the correct inkling who the killer might be, but I let it go. Cleeves is clever that way. As a reader, I don't always acknowledge the truth in front of me.

But, Vera. She is a little too close to this case. It's too personal. When Holly realizes how Vera is related to the Stanhope family, suspects in the case, she knows Vera is ignoring that. "She's never really understood the difference between her own morality and the constraints of the law."

Ann Cleeves' Vera Stanhope books are excellent police procedurals. Readers can follow the entire case and the investigative process. Let's face it, though. As much as I enjoy police procedurals, Vera is the reason I read these books. She's an aging woman struggling with her life, her family history, and her lack of relationships. For her, work is her life. Her personal life is an unwanted stopgap between investigations. It's only as a police officer that Vera has standing in life. In The Darkest Evening, with its connection to the Stanhope family, Vera is forced to face her vulnerability as a person. Any one of us who has used work as an escape can feel for Vera. As a reader, I can acknowledge the murder victims, and the loss felt by the families and community. As an aging woman, I feel for Vera.

Ann Cleeves' website is www.anncleeves.com

The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves. Minotaur Books, 2020. ISBN 9781250204509 (hardcover), 373p.

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

13 comments:

donna from CT said...

I love all of her books and am looking forward to reading this one. I feel sorry for people who don't read during this pandemic. Reading lets you escape to a different world. I guess the reason people are always on their phones is because they don't have a good book!

SallyM said...

YAY! I tried to put this on my Holds list (on Overdrive) for a week or so but they didn't have it. I read your review and tried again - GOT IT!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Lesa, I have not read any of the Vera books. But this review has me searching out the first in the series so that I can. GREAT review!!!! Thank you.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I agree with Kaye. Excellent review. Thanks.

Lesa said...

Donna, I do, too! I couldn't read for the first two weeks, but historical romances pulled me back in. I can't imagine what people do who don't read.

Lesa said...

Oh, good, Sally!

Lesa said...

Kaye, My reading of the Vera books has been sort of scattered. I really only read the first one a few months ago, but I had read others in the series. I like it. I think you will, too.

And, thank you!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Jeff!

Kay said...

I have really enjoyed all the Vera books and look forward to reading this one soon. I have it, just saving it for the right time. Loved your thoughts here and telling about Vera herself. I would agree based on the other books. Interesting that both the new Vera book and the new Gamache book have so much family included.

Lesa said...

Ah ha! You caught that, too, Kay. I thought the same thing. I know Ann Cleeves and Louise Penny have been spending time together. There's that serendipity of ideas being in the air, but I thought that, too. Interesting they both deal so much with family after both authors were widowed.

Grandma Cootie said...

You said just what I was thinking, Lesa, except so much better. I always enjoy both the book and TV Vera, but this book really touched me.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Grandma Cootie. It isn't often the detective is more sympathetic than the victim, but I did feel for Vera when I read this book.

farid sharry said...

very nice article There's that serendipity of ideas being in the air, but I thought that, too. Interesting they both deal so much with family after both authors were widowed.
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