Review | The Darkest Evening : by Ann Cleeves

The Vera Stanhope Series

Two of my favorite mystery writers are Ann Cleeves and Louise Penny. When one of them writes that the other is one of her favorites, it makes me happy.

Regarding the Vera Stanhope Series

“One of my favorite mystery writers . . . I relish learning more about Vera with each book . . . One of our most complex and lovable sleuths.”

Louise Penny

I enthusiastically follow the Vera Stanhope series and believe that “The Darkest Evening”, The ninth book in the series, should satisfy both series fans and new readers.

You may already be familiar with Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope from the TV series. I enjoy watching but prefer reading the stories. Cleeves’ descriptions of the natural world provide a unique picture in my own mind. Her characterizations are so complete that their personal images rise from the pages. I will say that Vera’s image on the TV is just about as I imagine her.

Northern England’s Mystery Maven, Cleeves Always Delivers Great Reads

I have a personal interest in these books because they take place in Northumberland, North East England. In the early 1970’s, I attended Durham Univerrsity (St Hild’s College), so the area around Newcastle and Sunderland are familiar. The River Wear flows through Durham on its way to Sunderland and the North Sea.

The River Wear by Durham

It wouldn’t be a Vera Stanhope mystery without the colloquialisms of Scotland and Northern England:

“Could you manage a mince pie?” Jill said. “Shop bought. Obviously.”

“Eh, hinnie, Vera smiled. “That’s just how I like them.”

Hinnie” is a term of endearment. Northumberland, England’s northernmost county – lends itself to regional dialect that Cleeves artfully incorporates in her stories.

The second verse of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is the source of the title. “The darkest evening of the year” would be the night before the Winter Solstice.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake

Vera Stanhope is Back in a Very Personal Tale

On the first snowy night of winter, Vera sets off for her home in the hills, but disoriented by the storm, she misses her turn and happens upon what appears to be an abandoned car that has skidded off the road. In the back seat, she discovers a toddler strapped in a car seat but no other signs of life. Vera takes the child and drives on to a place she knows well, Brockburn, the ancestral estate where her father, Hector, grew up. Inside, there is a Christmas party in full swing. Outside, unbeknownst to the revelers, a woman lies dead in the snow. Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope has a crime to investigate and her own family’s complicated past will begin to be uncovered. Vera well remembers strained visits to Brockburn with her father, and since her father’s death she has had no contact with his family.

We don’t just learn why a young mother was killed. We are drawn into the Brockburn clan and the tenant farmers who cohabit the estate.The many layers of Vera Stanhope are further stripped away for a deeper understanding and respect for her methods of detection and her life choices.

Published by Audrey Newhall

I am an avid reader and contributor to Penna Book Reviews

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