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 fianceé, 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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Review 1469: The Long Call

The Long Call is the first book in Ann Cleeves’s new mystery series set in North Devon. It features Matthew Venn, a detective who differs from Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez in that he is gay, married, and immaculately dressed, also unsure of himself.

The body of a man is discovered out on Crow Point near Matthew’s house. He has been stabbed, and he has no identification, so it takes a while for Matthew’s team to figure out who he is.

He turns out to be Simon Walden, a recently homeless man with alcohol abuse issues who volunteered at the Woodyard, a warehouse that was converted to a center offering studios for local artists, classes to the community, and a day center for mentally disabled adults. Matthew’s husband is the director of that center, so he wonders if he should take himself off the job.

link to NetgalleyIn investigating Simon, the police find more connections to the Woodyard. One of his roommates was Gaby, an artist who teaches there and disliked him. Also, a Downs Syndrome woman named Lucy who uses the center reports that he was her friend, he rode the bus with her out to Lovacott every day in the past few weeks. The police can’t figure out what he was doing there. Soon, the connections become even stronger when a Downs Syndrome woman named Chrissie goes missing from the Woodyard. Something tells Matthew that the events are related.

As usual, Cleeves presents us with a difficult mystery. I found Matthew somewhat unknowable with less of a persona than her other detectives, Vera and Jimmy, but that may be because I discovered both of those series through the television programs. I am more than willing to read another Matthew Venn book.

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Review 1416: Thin Air

Four Londoners are visiting Unst for a hamefarin’, a party for a newly married couple. Late the night of the party, Eleanor disappears. She had recently been depressed after a stillbirth, but her friends report she has seemed much better recently.

After Jimmy Perez and his team arrive, Eleanor’s body is found stretched out next to a small lake. She seems to be in an unnatural position, and the team thinks she was struck in the head.

Eleanor was making a film about rational people who claim to have had a supernatural experience. The area where they are staying is supposed to be haunted by a young drowned girl named Peerie Lizzy. Eleanor claims to have seen a girl on the beach in an old-fashioned white dress. Later, Polly sees her, too.

Of course, the main suspects are the friends and Eleanor’s husband, Ian. Eleanor and Ian seem somewhat of a mismatch, and Ian had Eleanor committed during her depression over the stillbirth.

Polly is a dreamy, shy librarian. She and her outgoing, assured boyfriend, Marcus, seem to be an unusual couple. The groom, Lowry, dated Eleanor in college and was said to be devastated when she broke up with him. Caroline, his new wife, seems much more concerned with the couple’s plans to move to Unst than by Eleanor’s death.

This is another complex, clever mystery by Cleeves. I had no clue of the solution, although I did guess a major plot point. A small caveat, though. The motive for the murder, once it was revealed, seemed far-fetched.

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Review 1387: The Glass Room

Inspector Vera Stanhope responds to a request from her neighbor, Jack Tobin, to find out where his wife, Joanna, has gone. She left abruptly, leaving only a note saying she needed space, but Jack is worried because she’s been behaving oddly and has stopped taking her medication for bipolar disorder.

Joanna isn’t hard to track down. She’s attending an institute at Writer’s House on the coast. When Vera arrives, however, she finds that one of the lecturers, Tony Ferdinand, has been found dead, stabbed with a knife, his body laid out awkwardly in the glass room, a sun porch where he liked to sit. Moreover, Joanna has been found in the hall with a knife.

Things don’t look good for Joanna, who was supposed to meet Ferdinand at the time he was killed. Shortly, however, the coroner verifies that the murder weapon was not the knife, which Joanna found lying in the room outside the glass room.

Nina Beckworth, another lecturer for the institute, begins writing a murder mystery set at the institute. In it, she imagines a body on the terrace, with the furniture and other trappings of the scene just so. Soon, the body of Miranda Barton, the founder of the institute, is found in exactly those circumstances. Vera realizes that someone is playing games.

Almost as soon as it was mentioned, I recognized the motivation for the murder and thereby the murderer. What I didn’t understand was how that linked to the victims. Cleeves is so clever with her red herrings and side plots, however, that by the end of the novel I was suspecting someone else, or rather, the original suspect and one other. This is another excellent detective novel from Cleeves.

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Review 1361: Blue Lightning

Cover for Blue LightningI started watching the Shetland television series, based on Ann Cleeves’s books, before reading the books but found that they had changed the TV series just enough to allow the books to still surprise (or vice versa). Unfortunately, however, I accidentally read one of the later books before this one, so I knew about a key plot point going in.

Inspector Jimmy Perez takes his fiancée, Fran, home to Fair Isle to meet his parents. A storm comes in shortly after their arrival, making the island inaccessible. So, although he is supposed to be on vacation, when Angela, the scientist at the island bird research center, is found murdered, Jimmy must begin working the case by himself.

He finds that Angela, although married to the site administrator, Maurice, was quite free with her favors, especially to younger, fit men. That would seem to make Maurice a suspect, but he doesn’t appear to care. Further, Angela was not well liked, being arrogant and rude to most people. The night of her murder, she had a big fight with her stepdaughter, Poppy.

Jimmy’s team and the Fiscal finally make it over to the island, but they have only been there a short time when Jane, the cook at the research center, is also found dead. Jimmy thinks she must have found out or witnessed something.

As usual, Cleeves keeps us guessing. I thought I knew who the murderer was through most of the novel only to be wrong about that and the motive. There is a shocking event toward the end of the novel. I couldn’t judge its effect, because that was the thing I knew about.

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Review 1337: Silent Voices

Cover of Silent VoicesVera Stanhope has taken her doctor’s advice and is swimming regularly at a health club. One morning, she finds the body of a middle-aged woman in the steam room. She has been strangled.

The victim is Jenny Lister, a social worker. She seems not to have any enemies, although she was the supervisor of Connie Masters, a social worker who was recently vilified when a boy under her care was murdered by his mother. Jenny’s daughter, Hannah, is devastated, and Hannah’s boyfriend, Simon Eliot, is very protective of her.

At the health club there has been a series of petty thefts, and Jenny’s handbag is missing. The thefts started when Danny Shaw became a cleaner, but are the thefts connected to the murder? Jenny might have been writing a book that she kept in the handbag.

As the investigation goes in several directions, Vera’s team soon feels as if it has too much to handle. Then Danny Shaw’s body is discovered.

This is another of Ann Cleeves’s complex but engrossing mysteries, set in Northern England. I think that Cleeves really has a talent for characterization and complex plots. I am enjoying this series.

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