Saturday, January 17, 2009

Northumberland: Ann Cleeves and the Vera Stanhope books.

The windswept coastal villages and rolling moors of Northumberland are the settings for Ann Cleeves's three novels featuring Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, first introduced in The Crow Trap (1999).

In this book three women, all of them with secrets, come together in an isolated cottage in the Northumberland National Park to undertake an environmental survey. But after two sudden deaths it is up to Stanhope to untangle the mysteries they would rather keep hidden. Big, brisk but basically kindly and with a reputation for eccentricity, Stanhope gets results through dogged persistence coupled with a wise intelligence and the ability to see unexpected connections. She hides her decisive mind behind a lugubrious and down-to-earth exterior. The location for this story – Baikie's Cottage – is based on a settlement called Threestone Burns, right up in the hills of the national park.

The second in the series, Telling Tales (2005), sees Stanhope seconded to South Yorkshire to investigate an apparent miscarriage of justice, but she returns to her cottage in the Northumberland hills for Hidden Depths (2007). Cleeves's mastery of shifting persepective is particularly evidenced in this finely crafted tale. The investigation revolves around a series of bodies discovered drowned surrounded by flowers like pre-Raphaelite figures, and a group of four men bound by the ties of old friendship.

Seaton, where much of the novel is set, is based on Holywell, near Whitley Bay in Northumberland. Deepden, where one of the bodies is discovered, is a fictional village up the coast is somewhere on the wide sweep of Druridge Bay. Hidden Depths is an intriguing and beautifully crafted story, and Stanhope is a strong and interesting detective.

Although I am enjoying very much Cleeves's latest Shetland Quartet series, I hope we haven't seen the last of Vera Stanhope!


Dorte H said...

This sounds like something I´ll have to put on my wish list! - I love these series which take place near the end of the world.

Anonymous said...

I recently obtained a copy of The Crow Trap because I have enjoyed the author's Shetland series (Raven Black and White Nights - next one due out this year, from memory it is called Red Book but I may have misremembered). It is really great to read your post because it gives me some context for embarking on the Stanhope series. Thanks!

Martin Edwards said...

I am absolutely sure that we will be hearing more about Vera Stanhope before long. I think she is a great character.

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