Reviewed by Gerard Healy
This is a cracking crime novel from Ann Cleeves featuring her sharp but down-to-earth Inspector Vera Stanhope. It is the tenth Vera novel that Cleeves has written.
This story involves a group of friends, who bonded over a weekend retreat on an island, near the end of their secondary school days. They agree to meet every five years, but at the end of their first reunion a young woman drowns, when her car is caught by rising tide waters on the causeway back to the mainland.
We start with a series of chapters on each of the main characters as they prepare for the fifty-year reunion of their close-knit group. The setting is mostly on the island of Lindisfarne (or Holy Island) and the nearby mainland, which is in England’s north east. One unusual aspect of this setting is that because the island is cut off by the tides regularly, then both innocent and guilty have to either stay overnight or depart promptly.
The action hots up when on the first morning of the latest reunion, a member of the group is found hanging from the timber beams of their bedroom. It appears to be a case of suicide, but when local Inspector Vera Stanhope is called in, she has her doubts.
The post-mortem confirms Vera’s belief that it was murder. The hunt begins for the culprit.
The remaining members of the group logically become the most likely suspects and Vera and her team focus on them. Vera becomes interested in the long-ago drowning of Isobel and wonders if it has something to do with the murder.
Of all the reunion characters perhaps Annie Laidler is the most sympathetic; she’s quiet, hard-working and patient and has her own sad back-story. The least likeable is probably Rick Kelsall, a brash TV personality with a big ego, who has been fired from the BBC under a sexual harassment cloud. Then there’s Phillip, wild in his youth but now an Anglican minister and the couple Ken and Louisa, both former teachers but he now has Alzheimer’s.
Other minor but important characters linked to the group include Isobel, the young woman who drowned and her sister Charlotte, who was once married to Rick. The young English Drama teacher who instigated the original retreat weekend is Judith Marshall and she still lives in the area. Annie’s first husband Daniel Rede is also living nearby and he is now a successful businessman, who has partnered with a high-ranking police official, Katherine Willmore. This woman’s daughter becomes involved in the plot when it turns out it is her accusations against Rick Kelsall that journalists have massaged into an explosive scoop.
Vera leads a small team of detectives, each drawn as interesting characters themselves. DS Joe Ashford is a family man who juggles his wife’s need for support with Vera’s calls on his time. DC Holly Clarke is bright and ambitious but needs reassuring from time to time, while DC Charlie (“a universal favourite uncle”) is sleepy looking but effective when it counts.
Sometimes Vera’s need to be in total control of events and her handling of subordinates comes under question. This touches on the dilemma for a crime writer- invent a brilliant detective but with human qualities. Cleeves does it admirably with Vera Stanhope.
It seems that clever Vera has little interest in dressing fashionably. At one point in a motel reception area, she’s mistaken for an applicant for a vacant cleaning position. She brushes aside any embarrassment in her down-to-earth manner. The television adaptation of the stories used the great idea of Vera donning an old floppy hat to mark her difference.
Another interesting facet of Vera’s personality is her attitude to authority figures above her in the Police force. She doesn’t rate her immediate boss Watkins very highly. When he says, “We’re investigators not archaeologists.” She thinks to herself… And you’re neither. You’re a glorified pen-pusher, who wouldn’t know a killer if he bit you in the arse. (172).
Then there are the occasional references to her own childhood…her alcoholic father, who was a poacher, her outsider status at school and so on. It was only when she joined the Police that she found her tribe, as Cleeves writes of her.
Cleeves is very good at filling out personalities and giving them human qualities. Brash and rude Rick has a softer side and seems to be good friend of Annie. Louisa faithfully attends to her increasingly vague husband Ken but understandably shows occasional annoyance at her situation. Phillip seems to be calm and collected on the surface but is it part of an act?
This engaging story is well-paced and has a surprise ending. I would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre.
Ann Cleeves OBE was born in 1954 and has written 35 novels to date. She was awarded the Diamond Dagger award in 2017 by the CWA for her career output. As well as the Vera series, she also wrote the Shetland series with detective Jimmy Parez and The Long Call featuring Matthew Venn as the detective. All three have been successful TV adaptations. She is widowed with two daughters and lives in Tyneside, England.
The Rising Tide
by Ann Cleeves
ISBN: 978 150988 962 4