☆☆➹⁀☆ 5 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆
About the Book
On the first snowy night of winter, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope sets off for her home in the hills. Though the road is familiar, she misses a turning and soon becomes lost and disorientated. A car has skidded off the narrow road in front of her, its door left open, and she stops to help. There is no driver to be seen, so Vera assumes that the owner has gone to find help. But a cry calls her back: a toddler is strapped in the back seat.
Vera takes the child and, driving on, she arrives at a place she knows well. Brockburn is a large, grand house in the wilds of Northumberland, now a little shabby and run down. It’s also where her father, Hector, grew up. Inside, there’s a party in full swing: music, Christmas lights and laughter. Outside, unbeknownst to the revelers, a woman lies dead in the snow.
As the blizzard traps the group deep in the freezing Northumberland countryside, Brockburn begins to give up its secrets, and as Vera digs deeper into her investigation, she also begins to uncover her family’s complicated past.
I’m a devoted fan of Ann Cleeves’ character Vera Stanhope. Frequently, I find police procedurals can be a bit flat, but that is never the case with DCI Stanhope.
The characters of Vera and her crew, Joe and Holly, are so well developed, and the view into their personal life makes the series much more interesting. In The Darkest Evening, readers get a particularly good peek at Vera’s family’s skeletons. Her estranged family is heavily featured in this latest installment of the series, and that pushes Vera and her family to face some unresolved matters.
The setting of atmospheric Northumberland is made to feel more isolated and chilling with the addition of a road-closing blizzard. Everything is turned upside down in the small community when bodies are found, but there also secrets, deceptions, infidelities and betrayals that float to the top like the bloated body of a drowning victim. I found The Darkest Evening to be an engaging page-turner.
About the Author: Ann grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. Her father was a village school teacher. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs – child care officer, women’s refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard – before going back to college and training to be a probation officer.
While she was cooking in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, she met her husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist. She was attracted less by the ornithology than the bottle of malt whisky she saw in his rucksack when she showed him his room. Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person’s not heavily into birds – and Ann isn’t – there’s not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing. Her first series of crime novels features the elderly naturalist, George Palmer-Jones. A couple of these books are seriously dreadful.
In 1987 Tim, Ann and their two daughters moved to Northumberland and the north east provides the inspiration for many of her subsequent titles. The girls have both taken up with Geordie lads. In the autumn of 2006, Ann and Tim finally achieved their ambition of moving back to the North East.