To the delight of readers everywhere, Ann Cleeves – and more specifically her beloved creation, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope – return in The Darkest Evening, the most recent novel from this acclaimed practitioner of the traditional procedural mystery. As with all of her novels, Ann Cleeves constructs The Darkest Evening to follow in the footsteps and styling of crime fiction’s golden age, while ensuring that all the surrounding elements firmly position it as a contemporary work – creating this timely timelessness to her oeuvre which while hard to explain, is easy to recognize, and proves to be altogether magical and seductive.
The Darkest Evening begins with Vera Stanhope traveling home from a pre-Christmas celebration with her co-workers when she loses her way and eventually stumbles upon an abandoned vehicle. Always wanting to help, Vera approaches the car’s open door only to discover that the driver is no where to be found – concerning enough, but the unchaperoned toddler in the back seat intimates that this is likely more than just standard winter car troubles. Vera is sure that someone is in serious trouble.
Scooping up to child, Vera orients herself and heads for Brockburn, a stately home not far away. This house belongs to some Stanhope relatives whom Vera has not visited in quite some time. Her arrival interrupts a party in progress, but the forecast for extreme weather quickly has everyone wanting to head home. Unfortunately, when one of the neighbors arrives to pick up his daughters, the body of a woman is discovered on the pathway headed towards Brockburn.
Vera is able to get her team into the area before the blizzard hits, but quickly everyone’s movements become restricted. What follows is Ann Cleeves using the trope of the secluded and isolated village in which a killer resides to force Vera Stanhope to reacquaint herself with her father’s side of the family, while also making every effort to expose a murderer. As Agatha Christie and others have done, Ann Cleeves buries a number of secrets amongst this isolated cadre of folk; some are related to the death of this young woman, while others are interesting red-herrings that allow the characters to blossom into flesh-and-blood people.
Since the investigation involves characters from all levels of the social hierarchy in this small village, Ann Cleeves is able to make small, but important observations about human interaction. Part of the search for answers leads to a medical facility where Joe Ashworth is forced to face some of his own worries and demons. Another beloved member of Vera team, Holly, also plays a significant role in The Darkest Evening, showing her growth as a police professional and as a human. As is typical with an Ann Cleeves novel, the depiction of the investigation and the logical leaps made by the authorities feel authentic and accurate; and all the necessary clues are there for observant readers to figure things out, but obfuscated successfully by a skilled author.
Ann Cleeves has now written nine Vera Stanhope books and yet she manages to make each of them feel as fresh and exciting as when readers first met Vera back in The Crow Trap. This author’s ability to transform the standard tropes in unique ways is a testament to her talent and commitment to the mystery genre. Readers appreciate that she never cuts corners on her way to revealing the culprit. The Darkest Evening will please both long-time fans as well as new readers unfamiliar with Vera Stanhope.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel