The Darkest Evening - Ann Cleeves

Grabbing the latest book in this series is a no-brainer for a couple of reasons. First, I know I’m in for a well written, twisty murder mystery. Second, I get to spend time with the wonderful Brenda Blethyn. Ever since I saw her portrayal of Vera Stanhope, she’s become the voice in my head as I read these books. And that’s no bad thing.


The story begins when Vera ends up with a baby. But not the usual way. In the middle of a blizzard, she comes across an abandoned car with a tiny person inside. Their only hope is to make it to the nearest house which just happens to be the ancestral home of her father’s estranged family. Awkward.


And so Vera is reunited with snooty matriarch Harriet, her daughter Juliet & son-in-law Mark. She hasn’t seen this side of the family since childhood & it sets up an interesting dynamic. But any chit-chat will have to wait as Vera calls in reinforcements to deal with the baby, the car…..wait, where is the mom? By the time help arrives, there’s another more pressing question: who is the dead woman in the back yard?


And we’re off. Joe, Holly & all the regulars are back as the team tries to identify a killer who is hiding in plain sight. Motive is key to solving the case & as Vera digs with her typical persistence, family secrets & hidden ties are revealed. Appearances can deceive & even the happiest families have fault lines, soft spots that must be protected to maintain a facade.


The plotting is excellent & there are several credible “killers” to choose from. But what elevates the story is the addition of Vera’s personal history & present day interaction with long lost relatives. As local connections are uncovered, she has to wonder if her family knows more than they’re telling. They remember her as the awkward, frumpy daughter of the family’s black sheep. She may still be all those things but now she’s also an intuitive cop with the power to sort through & air their dirty laundry.


Picking up one of these books is like bumping into old friends. I love Vera & enjoy watching as criminals underestimate her at their own expense. Joe continues to be her long suffering righthand man while Holly’s character & relationship with the boss is further developed.


The pages fly by driven by a steady pace, clever dialogue & well rounded characters. By the end, the woman’s death is not the only mystery solved as Vera gains new insight into her father that may help put some of her personal demons to rest.