Review 1758: Too Good To Be True

In looking for more to read by Ann Cleeves, I wasn’t aware that I had ordered something between a short story and a novella, packaged under the name of Quick Reads. This little volume cost almost as much as a regular paperback and took about a half hour to read.

At the request of his ex-wife Sarah, Jimmy Perez travels to the border town of Stonebridge. Here a young teacher, Anna Blackwell, has been found dead, an apparent suicide. Sarah is concerned because the village rumor mill is alleging that her husband Tom was having an affair with Anna. Sarah hasn’t helped the situation by heading a drive to remove her from her position.

When Jimmy investigates the crime scene, he finds some evidence to indicate that Anna may have been murdered. Also, a mysterious stranger seems to be following him.

I am not really a fan of mystery short stories, because I enjoy all the things that the short story in that genre has little time for, character development, atmosphere, and so on. As it turns out, the motive for this murder seems unbelievably flimsy. I don’t think I’ll be purchasing any more of these Quick Reads.

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Review 1732: A Day in the Death of Dorothea Cassidy

Here’s another book for RIP XVI, although a cozy one.

People in the town of Otterbridge are shocked when the body of Dorothea Cassidy, the vicar’s wife, is found murdered in the park. Most of the people in town loved her, she was so vibrant and enthusiastic.

Inspector Ramsey and Sergeant Hunter are having difficulty retracing her movements on the day before. Almost everyone who saw her is lying in some way. Old Walter Tanner found her car in his driveway that morning, and only he admits to disliking her, saying she was constantly after him to approve of changes she wanted to make to the church.

The Inspector Ramsey books are one of Cleeves’s earlier series. I have read all of her Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez books and a couple of stand-alones. Although this one has a clever premise, it feels less polished than the others. Cleeves often lets readers know some of what her suspects are thinking, but information about them is introduced naturally in the other books, for example, in conversations between characters. Here, we no sooner meet a character than we are told several facts about the person, a device which seemed clumsy to me. Also, character development seems quite a bit sketchier.

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Review 1716: Burial of Ghosts

Yesterday was the beginning of RIP (Readers Imbibing Peril), which continues through October. During these two months, the goal is to read gothic novels, mysteries, crime novels, horror, or other dark and mysterious books! This one certainly qualifies, so it’s my first book for RIP XVI.

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Having read all of the existing Vera Stanhope and Shetland novels, I decided to try a few of Ann Cleeves’ stand-alone novels. Burial of Ghosts seemed more to me like one of Catriona McPherson’s thrillers than Cleeves’ mysteries.

Lizzie Bartholomew is in Morocco recovering from traumatic events when she meets and has a short affair with an older man, Philip Samson. Some time after she returns to her home in Newbiggen, she receives a letter from a lawyer, Stuart Howden, telling her that Philip has died from cancer and asking her to attend his funeral. Later, at his office she learns that he left her a small legacy, provided she try to find and befriend a teenager named Thomas Mariner. Howdon implies that Mariner is Philip’s illegitimate son.

When Lizzie finds Thomas, she luckily goes into the house with a neighbor, because Thomas is dead, stabbed to death. Still, because Lizzie was previously involved in a stabbing and because she has been diagnosed bi-polar, Inspector Farrier questions her as a suspect. When he checks her story, he tells her that Stuart Howden denies knowing her. However, Farrier does not believe she stabbed Thomas.

Lizzie decides to try to discover who killed Thomas. She finds that Thomas was prepared to be a whistle blower but not for what.

It’s not a surprise that the mystery is difficult to figure out, although I was surprised that Lizzie, having found that Howdon lied, doesn’t question the rest of his story. I enjoyed this novel but felt there was no way to guess the solution.

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Review 1689: The Sleeping and the Dead

I have to say that it’s very unusual for me to guess the murderer in an Ann Cleeves mystery. For this standalone mystery, however, I guessed the culprit almost immediately, although not from any clues. Nor could I figure out how the person was connected to the murders.

The lake at an adventure camp is unusually low when one of the instructors takes her canoe out. It is so low that she can see a body underwater next to what used to be a pier. When the body is examined, it is deemed to have been in the water at least 10 years.

When Detective Peter Porteus’s team finally identifies the body, it belongs to a teenager named Michael Grey. Although he disappeared in the 1970’s, he was not even reported missing until his elderly foster parents died a few years later, leaving him their house. What is odder is that the team can find no evidence that he even existed before he attended school in Cranford.

Hannah Morton, now a prison librarian, was Michael’s girlfriend in school. The last time she saw him was at a cast party for the school play just before A level exams. But Porteus knows there is something she’s not telling him.

It is not too long before there is another death, but how can Porteus connect these two murders 40 years apart? Another good one from Cleeves.

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Review 1680: The Darkest Evening

During a blizzard just before the winter solstice, Vera Stanhope misses a turn on the way home and encounters a car off the road with its door open. Inside is a baby. Vera realizes she is near the drive to her cousin Janet Stanhope’s stately home, so she takes the baby and goes to the house.

Once Vera has established that neither the Stanhopes nor their housekeeper Dorothy knows who the child is, she summons Holly to open up a case. Then Neil Heslop, the tenant farmer, comes in to inform them that he’s found a dead woman in the snow.

The woman, Lorna Falstoner, has been brutally struck in the head. She is established as the baby’s mother, but no one knows what she is doing on the property. She is unmarried, and the team can find no one who knows the identity of the baby’s father. Vera becomes convinced that finding this information will lead them to the killer.

With its frozen setting, The Darkest Evening is atmospheric and mysterious. I had no idea of the identity of the murderer. Cleeves is becoming a master of the red herring.

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Review 1569: The Seagull

Here’s another book for RIPXV!

Disgraced former superintendent John Brace is dying in prison, so he asks Vera Stanhope to visit him. He tells her he has information about the disappearance years ago of Robbie Marshall. He will tell her where Robbie’s body is if she will check in on his daughter, Patty Keane, a single mother with mental health problems.

Vera does, so Brace tells her he discovered Robbie dead one night and buried him in a culvert on St. Mary’s Island. When the police investigate the scene, they find two bodies in the culvert, a man and a woman.

The team’s investigations seem to indicate that the female may be Mary-Frances Lascuola, the mother of John Brace’s daughter, a junkie who vanished a few years before Robbie did. Then, Gary Keane, Patty’s ex-husband, is found dead. A common denominator that seems to link all of the people the team is investigating is the Seagull, once an upscale nightclub that burned down years ago. Another common link seems to be the Gang of Four, a group of wildlife buffs whose members were John Brace, Vera’s father Hector, Robbie Marshall, and a shadowy character known as the Prof.

This is another complex and interesting mystery by Cleeves. Her novels are always atmospheric with believable characters and difficult mysteries.

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Review 1542: Wild Fire

After a strange incident on the beach when kids taunted an autistic boy, that boy, Christopher, finds the nanny of another family hanged in an outbuilding on his family’s property. His parents, Daniel and Helena Fleming, have not found a welcome in the small village of Deltaness, especially since the previous owner hanged himself in the same outbuilding after they built their new house.

Jimmy Perez comes out to the scene and realizes immediately that the girl, Emma Shearer, was murdered, because there is nothing in the building she could have stood on to hang herself. She was the nanny for the Moncrieff children and had been with them since she was 17.

Jimmy summons the CSI team and his boss, Willow Reeves, to the scene. But when Willow arrives, she has news for him. She is pregnant, and he is the father. Jimmy, still confused by the death of his fianceƩ, Fran, has an unpredictable reaction.

Working on the case, the team has difficulty getting any sense of Emma. It is early established that she had a relationship with Daniel Fleming, but although he admits to having been obsessed with her, he claims they did not have an affair.

This was one of Cleeves’s difficult mysteries, especially as, although there are hints, the perpetrator is not very present in the book. Sadly, this is the last book in the Shetland series, but it’s possible that we’ll see more of Jimmy and Willow.

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Review 1537: The Moth Catcher

The body of a young man is discovered beside the road in a remote valley near Kimmerston. He was house sitting for Major and Mrs. Carswell while they are in Australia. When the investigative team goes to the attic apartment where he was staying, they find the body of a middle-aged man in a suit.

The house sitter was a researcher named Patrick Randle, but Vera Stanhope’s team is unable for some time to figure out the identity of the second man or the order in which the two were killed. When they finally identify the second man as Martin Benton, the IT person for a local charity, they have a hard time figuring out what the two have in common. They eventually identify an interest in moths.

In this valley, the only residents are the owners of three barn conversions nearby. Yet, the six people who live there, three sets of retirees, claim not to know either Randle or Benton.

Cleeves always presents real puzzles, and this one’s a doozy. Although the clues are there, I couldn’t figure this one out at all. There’s a slight cheat, in that information discovered 50 pages from the end isn’t divulged until the end, but frankly, even if it was, I’m not sure I’d make the connection. A good mystery, as usual.

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Review 1505: Cold Earth

Jimmy Perez is attending the funeral of Magnus, an old man who was a recluse for years, when the hillside above the cemetery collapses in a landslide, taking out a cottage further down the hill. Jimmy thinks the cottage is unoccupied, but he goes to check. There he finds the body of a woman, apparently killed in the slide.

While Jimmy’s team struggles to identify the woman, the coroner lets them know that the woman was already dead inside the cottage. She was strangled. Jimmy must call in his boss, Willow Reeves, from the mainland. He finds he’s thinking of her more and more.

When the team thinks they’ve identified the woman as the American owner of the cottage, they have another setback. She is at work in New York and has no idea who might be using her cottage. In any case, the dead woman was using her name when she crossed over to the island.

As usual with Cleeves, this was an interesting but difficult puzzle. I have to say that there was so little apparent connection between the victim and the murderer that it was almost cheating. Also, the novel seemed to conclude a little too quickly after the build-up at the end. Still, I enjoyed reading it.

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Review 1493: Harbour Street

Sergeant Joe Ashworth and his young daughter Jessie are traveling on the Metro, returning from a Christmas concert, when the train is halted and everyone is made to get off. Jessie notices that one person doesn’t get off—an older woman who is too nicely dressed to be going to Mardle. She is dead, stabbed by someone on the train.

The woman turns out to be Margaret Krukowski, a 70-year-old resident of a Mardle B&B who helps run it. The B&B on Harbour Street is owned by Kate Dewar, who inherited the house from a relative. When Joe and Vera Stanhope go to interview Kate and look at Margaret’s room, Joe feels that something is familiar but puts the feeling down to his recognition of Kate as Kate Guthrie, who had been a famous singer.

Margaret seems to have led a blameless life. She was very private, but aside from her work at the house, she volunteered with several charities. One of them was The Haven, providing temporary housing for women in need of a place to stay.

It takes a while for Vera and her team to find out Margaret’s secrets, but they can’t get past the fact that no one seems to think badly of her. Then another woman is killed.

Harbour Streeet is another mystery by Cleeves that really kept me guessing. She is good at creating believable characters, and her plots are complex but not beyond belief. This is one series I’m not tired of yet.

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