Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
More than thirty novels later, Ann Cleeves has presented her millions of followers with another thrilling tale – this time featuring, for the ninth time, Vera Stanhope.
Her skill does not seem to falter. With apparent ease, Ann Cleeves has written an engrossing crime novel which, although it has the time-honoured ingredients, is fresh in tone and expertly deals with people in a small rural village in Northern England.
Vera, the leading detective, is well known through her TV dramas. Eschewing any trace of glamour, she tramps through each episode. Crumpled and battered, close to retirement age, she is the antithesis of the fast-moving, slick and physically attractive detective of many shows, particularly the American offerings.
Her quirky humour and dumpy little figure nonetheless engages her staff and the vast legion of viewers and readers.
Ann Cleeves excels in portraying ordinary characters examining each clue, working as a team, and eventually and unfailingly solving complex crimes. Such is the accomplished technique of her writing that, from many aspects, her books are intensely satisfying. Her detective fiction is reassuring in the sense that, unlike the real world, there are no unsolved cases. The resolution of the puzzle in discovering the guilty is all neatly explained.
The Darkest Evening is sure to brighten any cold rainy day – the ideal time to curl up with a book! The setting is the countryside outside Newcastle, deep in the snowy winter at Christmastime. There are cottages huddling in snow, a stately home needing financial support, and a collection of characters who are convincing and distinctive. Some are traditional farmers, some teachers, artists, and of course, the family living at Brockburn the manor house.
More than one murder, more than a handful of suspects, and clues dropped regularly as they would occur in a well-ordered world; it all guarantees that the reader is unable to put the book aside until the final little puzzle is solved. Even the minor clue related to the avocado on sour dough for breakfast is eventually explained!
Joe Ashworth, Vera’s steady and reliable right-hand man, is skating between supporting the investigation and its demands and being the devoted father and husband. His role is stressful but his presence in the team essential.
Holly, a talented young colleague, seems poised to assume the position Vera will vacate in the future that looms ever closer. Holly is clever, hardworking and eager to learn all she can by working with the esteemed Vera. Perhaps a new series of detective fiction will emerge with Holly pursuing her career and Vera, retired, as her consultant. Many would hope so.
People already familiar with Ann Cleeves and her very real characters will not be disappointed. This is another fine way to spend some hours transported to another world peopled by characters who experience love, longing, despair, enthusiasm, loneliness – the list goes on.
It is no surprise that Ann Cleeves has been awarded the Diamond Dagger for excellence in crime writing – the highest of accolades and rarely bestowed. Her work never seems to disappoint the most seasoned and demanding of readers in this genre.
The Darkest Evening
by Ann Cleeves
ISBN 978 15098 8952 5