My first Ann Cleeves book. I don’t read many books anyway. More an audible listener but even then mostly non-fiction. I came to this because I am in a newish book club and it was my turn to choose a book. The other four we had read were all connected with the person choosing by way of the location. The other books were “serious” reading of a sort not really in such a defined genre as crime fiction. “A Man Called Ove”, “The Long Petal of the Sea”, “A Month in the Country” and “That They May See the Rising Sun”. So I was determined to find a hefty tome that was about my birthplace Northumberland and especially Whitley Bay) with history and depth. I couldn’t find one! No doubt they are there but when I say history I meant more recent than Roman Britain. But it seems the NE lends itself to ancient history historical novels and crime.
Anyway on to my review.
What I did like were the descriptions of location. I was born (1958) and bred in Whitley Bay and she gets so much right though I have to add I left in 1984 so the times described were after my time there. My Whitley Bay was a bustling seaside town with grimy pubs and the odd hotel disco dance floor not a night club paradise for people from the Toon. The Spanish City still had its rickety wooden framed Roller Coaster and Tunnel of Love was a ride only, the Dire Straits song arrived around 1980 when I was in my PGCE year at uni. The description of the cemetery road, dual carriageway and track to St Mary’s lighthouse were iconic to anyone who knows the area. One wonders why Whitley had that dual carriageway section.
I also admire the courage of having a main character like Vera Stanhope. I wonder if in reality anyone like her would get to her station these days as she’s not politically correct enough and her dress code would surely be complained about by those above. She’s obviously brilliant at her job of solving murders and team loyalty is strong but do people rise up only due to competence these days? Her private life history is well developed and no doubt is a theme building momentum across all the Vera novels.
Her team who I imagine are in all the Vera novels were interesting in their own right and I would like to find out more about them by reading the other novels. They all seem a bit naive except for Charlie. Now I have to admit that I know more about them because I’ve been working my way through the first 4 Vera TV drama series. Joe Ashworth is my favourite character and excellently acted. I’m sad to see he will leave soon. I was surprised to see Holly was black on TV. I wonder if she is in the novels? I missed it if it’s in The Seagull. I’m glad I read the book before watching the TV series as it’s fun to compare ones visualisation with that of the casting director.
The other characters who would likely only be in this novel were well described and not at all 2D. I think my mind provides pictures easily and Ann’s descriptions and dialogue formed easy pictures in my mind of both male and female characters. The couple who have lost their daughter were particularly well drawn but perhaps that is because I have some experience in that area too. I felt for them. The mother of Robbie Marshall in her house is also a well described person and setting. I could small and feel the place.
Most characters overall are sympathetic though all the CID team are a little bit too “good”.
Overall I liked the book but have downgraded it as and I wasn’t so hooked that I read it non-stop so to speak and I was a disappointed in the ending It seemed quick and weak. I sort of felt Ann was winding up the story quickly because she was bored with writing. But I guess this may be simply the typical genre ending. The “Prof” wasn’t developed enough as a character for me and his sudden demise just seemed too convenient. Also once Mary-Frances Lascuola who fascinates from the beginning once discovered alive was demanding more fleshing out. I thought the “gardener” would have been more charismatic to Joe if the description of Mary was true. Mary’s relationship with John Brace is a little bit unbelievable but emotionally tugged at me.
Certainly a good read from my perspective but not great.