Pan Macmillan, This edition published April 2007
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill
Twelve-year-old Luke Armstrong is a troubled boy, diagnosed with
Asperger's Syndrome. His only friend, Thomas, drowned several months ago
despite Luke's best efforts to save him. So when Luke's mother discovers
her son dead in the bath, her first reaction is suicide. But there are
flowers strewn in the bath, floating on the water, and the police quickly
establish that he was murdered. Surely he couldn't have been murdered at
home with his fourteen-year-old sister sleeping in the next room?
Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope is assigned the case. Because Vera is
plain, overweight, middle-aged and drinks to a little too much, it's very
easy for people to underestimate her. Just because people dismiss her a
plodding lump doesn't mean that she doesn't have a keen mind.
The case takes on a new urgency when another body, that of Lily, a young
student teacher, is found floating in a rock pool at the beach, her body
posed in the same way as Luke's.
Vera's attention turns to the group who found Lily, four men who share a
keen interest in bird-watching. All deny knowing Lily and the other
victim, Luke, but are they telling the truth? Vera becomes convinced that
the solution lies somewhere in their lives, but where? And what is the
connection between the two victims? Indeed, is there one at all, or have
they been chosen at random?
The author, Ann Cleeves has a gift for setting. Her previous novel, RAVEN
BLACK, set in the Shetland Islands, evoked a very strong sense of place.
Likewise, HIDDEN DEPTHS is very clearly a novel of North-East England: it
shows in something in Vera's outlook on life and her persona that I can't
quite pin down.
HIDDEN DEPTHS is the third in the Vera Stanhope series and was my first
encounter with her. I had read several chapters before I realised that I
hardly knew anything about her. I thought perhaps this was going to be a
book where the detective was merely a device to access the mystery.
However Vera's character and life are slowly revealed through her thoughts
and feelings. It's a very clever way of doing it and for me, heightened my
interest. By the time I'd finished the book I felt I knew Vera quite well.
Ann Cleeves has two successful series under her belt: George and
Mary-Palmer Jones, amateur sleuths and bird-watchers; and the Inspector
Ramsay series. Not content with that, RAVEN BLACK was the first in a
planned quartet of books based in the Shetland Islands; and of course,
there is the Vera Stanhope series. There are also a number of standalone
novels to her name.
For readers like me who are unashamed fans of Cleeves' writing, there is
plenty to choose from.
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