“From Ann Cleeves – New York Times best-selling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows – comes the stunning new Vera Stanhope novel, The Darkest Evening.”
On the first snowy night of winter, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope sets off for her home in the hills. Though the road is familiar, she misses a turning and soon becomes lost and disorientated. A car has skidded off the narrow road in front of her, its door left open, and she stops to help. There is no driver to be seen, so Vera assumes that the owner has gone to find help. But a cry calls her back: a toddler is strapped in the back seat.
Vera takes the child and, driving on, she arrives at a place she knows well. Brockburn is a large, grand house in the wilds of Northumberland, now a little shabby and run down. It’s also where her father, Hector, grew up. Inside, there’s a party in full swing: music, Christmas lights, and laughter. Outside, unbeknownst to the revelers, a woman lies dead in the snow.
As the blizzard traps the group deep in the freezing Northumberland countryside, Brockburn begins to give up its secrets, and as Vera digs deeper into her investigation, she also begins to uncover her family’s complicated past.
Ugh! I really hate it when I discover a new author (to me) and then realize I had no clue just how well established or far-reaching the author is—apparently to the rest of the world. Why am I always the last to know?
So, my first experience with the author, much less the character of Vera, a DCI in Northumberland. She is a what? Gasp! Not just a woman—also a “mature” woman. Well, not so sold or engaged in probably the first quarter of the book—not like there was a lot of backstory going on. After the initial scene—that of Vera discovering a car off the road in a snowstorm…with the doors open…with a baby strapped inside—things tend to bog down just a tad.
It’s the estate of distant relatives, aristocrats with which her family was estranged, and they are having a party in the country house. No cell service, she slogs to the house with the toddler to notify her office and get some help finding the person who abandoned the car. Who would seek help but leave a baby with the doors open? They do find the mother’s body, but she didn’t freeze to death. Lorna Falstone had a history of mental health issues, including anorexia, and was a single mother.
It’s a small, tight-knit community with the haves and have-nots and few secrets—except perhaps for the identity of the baby’s father. Character-driven, a study in the dysfunction of the well-to-do as well as those working their land.
I was sympathetically engaged with Vera—she was fighting an uphill battle in her position—but now add her age to that and she sees her share of discrimination. She is supported by a team, that of DS Joe Ashworth (not so supportive) and DC Holly Jackman (guardedly supportive and) smart enough to watch the master at work and learn. Vera is often the target of Joe’s wife who says he works too hard and too many hours. I appreciated the character of Holly—she is content being unconsciously mentored by Vera—and she’s a sponge. There is a grudging and growing respect between both of them. Holly often sees the path Vera is taking—anticipating the path—and providing timely support.
As Vera continues to interview and investigate, gradually gleaning clues and pursuing leads, little secrets and family dynamics are peeled back and exposed. Vera leads with a strong protagonist, no-nonsense, take no prisoners attitude.
The well-plotted storyline leads inexorably to the perpetrator with one further casualty into the investigation and a thrilling heart-stopping conclusion. Janine Birkett does an admirable job as narrator, quietly adding emotion and tension. The atmospheric woodsy setting, dark and cold, hand-warming tea cups and biscuits or brandy paints a quiet, rural, but deadly setting and adds to the creepiness of the scenes bringing to the forefront the poem by Robert Frost:
“…The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
And I didn’t even know I was a (Robert Frost) Ann Cleeves fan. But I do now. And I’ll be looking for more of her books (and probably the TV series as well).
Genre: International Mystery & Crime, Women Sleuth Mysteries, Police Procedural Mysteries
Publisher: A Macmillan Audio production from Minotaur Books
Print Length: 379 pages
Listening Length: 11 hrs, 16 mins.
Narrator: Janine Birkett
Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link: The Darkest Evening
Rosepoint Publishing: Four point Five of Five Stars
The Author: Ann [Cleeves] is the author of the books behind ITV’s VERA, now in it’s third series, and the BBC’s SHETLAND, which will be aired in December 2012. Ann’s DI Vera Stanhope series of books is set in Northumberland and features the well loved detective along with her partner Joe Ashworth. Ann’s Shetland series bring us DI Jimmy Perez, investigating in the mysterious, dark, and beautiful Shetland Islands…
Ann grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. Her father was a village school teacher. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs – child care officer, women’s refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard – before going back to college and training to be a probation officer.
While she was cooking in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, she met her husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist. She was attracted less by the ornithology than the bottle of malt whisky she saw in his rucksack when she showed him his room. Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person’s not heavily into birds – and Ann isn’t – there’s not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing. Her first series of crime novels features the elderly naturalist, George Palmer-Jones. A couple of these books are seriously dreadful.
In 1987 Tim, Ann and their two daughters moved to Northumberland and the north east provides the inspiration for many of her subsequent titles. The girls have both taken up with Geordie lads. In the autumn of 2006, Ann and Tim finally achieved their ambition of moving back to the North East.
For the National Year of Reading, Ann was made reader-in-residence for three library authorities. It came as a revelation that it was possible to get paid for talking to readers about books! She went on to set up reading groups in prisons as part of the Inside Books project, became Cheltenham Literature Festival’s first reader-in-residence and still enjoys working with libraries.
Ann Cleeves on stage at the Duncan Lawrie Dagger awards ceremony
Ann’s short film for Border TV, Catching Birds, won a Royal Television Society Award. She has twice been short listed for a CWA Dagger Award – once for her short story The Plater, and the following year for the Dagger in the Library award.
In 2006 Ann Cleeves was the first winner of the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award of the Crime Writers’ Association for Raven Black, the first volume of her Shetland Quartet. The Duncan Lawrie Dagger replaces the CWA’s Gold Dagger award, and the winner receives £20,000, making it the world’s largest award for crime fiction.
Ann’s success was announced at the 2006 Dagger Awards ceremony at the Waldorf Hilton, in London’s Aldwych, on Thursday 29 June 2006. She said: “I have never won anything before in my life, so it was a complete shock – but lovely of course.. The evening was relatively relaxing because I’d lost my voice and knew that even if the unexpected happened there was physically no way I could utter a word. So I wouldn’t have to give a speech. My editor was deputed to do it!”
The judging panel consisted of Geoff Bradley (non-voting Chair), Lyn Brown MP (a committee member on the London Libraries service), Frances Gray (an academic who writes about and teaches courses on modern crime fiction), Heather O’Donoghue (academic, linguist, crime fiction reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement, and keen reader of all crime fiction) and Barry Forshaw (reviewer and editor of Crime Time magazine).
Ann’s books have been translated into sixteen languages. She’s a bestseller in Scandinavia and Germany. Her novels sell widely and to critical acclaim in the United States. Raven Black was shortlisted for the Martin Beck award for best translated crime novel in Sweden in 200.
Bio and photo from Goodreads.
©2020 V Williams
Reference and partial quote in the book from the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (1874-1963)