The darkest evening by Ann Cleeves

cover image

A fan of the TV series, I was delighted to pick up a Vera Stanhope novel, not having read one for several years. When driving home on a dark winter’s night, Vera takes a wrong turn and seeing a car abandoned on the side of the road stops to help and discovers a toddler strapped inside. Knowing how dangerous the weather is, she decides to take him to the nearest house, which turns out to be Brockburn, the manor house where Hector her father had been brought up. There, amidst the gaiety of a party, a young woman’s body is found in the snow, and Vera is plunged into a murder investigation.

This has all the hallmarks of a good mystery. There is a country house that is starting to decay and well fleshed out characters from the wealthy landowners, tenant farmers and village people all provide suspects. Lorna, the young woman who had been murdered had suffered anorexia in her youth and had not disclosed the name of the father of her baby to anyone, so Vera and her offsiders, Joe and Holly are faced with multiple suspects and red herrings to follow up.

It was particularly interesting to find out that Vera was related to the people in the big house and to see the divide between the rich and middle class. The book revolves around family and all the problems and rumours that can ripple even the smoothest surface of a relationship. The Stanhope family needs money and Juliet has been unable to have a baby, no one knows the identity of the father of Lorna’s baby and why she is estranged from her father, and even Vera feels a tug towards the little toddler left motherless.

This was an entertaining and engrossing mystery, easy to read, with an exciting conclusion which I did not expect. I found the book gave insights and background to Vera that added to the picture of her I had built up from the TV series. A most satisfying read.

Themes: Mystery, Families.

Pat Pledger