The Darkest Evening is the ninth and latest from Ann Cleeves series featuring detective Vera Stanhope. Vera is driving back from the office when she goes off course in a snowstorm, and comes across a car left with it’s door open and an unattended baby inside. As there is no one nearby, she takes the child with her to the nearest house, which turns out to have two interesting things about it: it is her father’s ancestral home, and there’s also the body of a young woman outside.
This is the first book that I’ve read in this series, and I really enjoyed it. I also haven’t watched the TV show, Vera, that’s based on these books. I really like that you can just pick up this book and read it, you don’t need to have read the other books to enjoy this one. But I will certainly be checking out the show and other books in the series. I really enjoyed this.
I love old mysteries like Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, and it was fun that this book was set in the type of country home that often featured in those old books. The author seems to have liked the idea of trying out the kind of murders in those books, but seeing how it would play out in a modern detective story setting. Cleeves has Vera mull over how she liked to read Christie in her youth and how this murder is like those in some ways. But of course, times have changed. The detective is not a private person like Poirot but a member of the police, and the story is not a “locked room” where the investigator is perhaps staying at the house. Police procedural are different in tone and in some ways in structure, than those old tales, and of course, the class system and the nature of old money has changed. I think this is done really well, and made for a great detective story.
As mentioned above, the book starts in a snowstorm, and the cold and snow is a large part of this story. I made for a really cozy read, and I loved the farm settings, the mentions of Hadrian’s Wall, aga stoves, walking through snow covered woods. The Northumberland location of this series is so perfect.
Vera herself is also really well written. I liked having a little of her backstory explored here, even though I haven’t read the other books. She has an interesting relationship with her father and her fathers family, and it was a great thread that ran through this book. Her as an officer of the law, an offspring of a black sheep member of the family, juxtaposed with her snobbish, upper-class relatives, who want to keep her out of site. She’s an interesting person: a really sharp woman, but not well dressed or fit, not gun toting or young, but very human and likable. I think she makes a great protagonist and detective. She’s good at her job and well respected, but she is described so humorously as badly dressed, over weight. I really liked her.
I really like this book a lot. It has really good pace, with enough happening in each chapter to keep you interested, and enough little secrets being revealed to keep you wanting to read just a few more pages instead of going to bed. The characters are all intriguing, both the suspects and people involved in the case, and Vera’s own team. I felt like the victim slowly came to life over the course of the book too, and wasn’t just a McGuffin to base a story around. It felt like the plot was very much advanced through people and character, though the ending does have that classic trope: the detective goes after the killer alone and unarmed. (It’s not something I personally mind, in mysteries, genre tropes are welcome to me and all part of the fun)
This is such a perfect Autumn/Winter cozy read. It’s a really good mystery set in a small place where everyone thinks they know each others business and there’s plenty of gossip. The snow is falling, we have a great detective to watch solve the case, and there’s a beautiful old mansion where a young girl has been killed. It’s a really fun read, and should hit the spot for mystery and crime bibliophiles.
The Darkest Evening is out now.
Thank you PGC Books for the advance copy of this book for review.