I have long enjoyed the BBC television adaptation of Ann Cleeves' Vera Stanhope mysteries as well as the other television series based on her books, Shetland. The actor who plays Vera, Brenda Blethyn, is absolutely perfect in the role, as is the man who plays her sergeant, Joe. Now that I've finally gotten around to reading the first book in the Vera series, I imagined those two actors speaking their lines as I read them. It certainly enhanced my enjoyment of the book.
Not that my enjoyment especially needed enhancing. I thought the book was wonderful in its plotting and in the characters that were introduced along the way. I can't think of a single thing that I would change about it.
All of the main characters in the story are women. We first meet Bella Furness, a middle-aged wife caring for her invalid husband. She walks out of her house one day and is next seen by Rachael Lambert who arrives in the area to lead an environmental study. When Rachael arrives at the cottage that is to be home base for the environmental study team, she is horrified to discover the body of Bella Furness hanging in the barn, an apparent suicide.
The death is ruled a suicide and meantime the other two women members of the team arrive at the cottage: Botanist Anne Preece and mammalogist Grace Fulwell. Anne is hoping to combine her work on the study with some extracurricular time spent with her lover, now that she is away from her husband. Grace, who shares a name with the prominent local family but says she isn't related, is hiding secrets of her own and is uncommunicative and unsocial with her fellow team members.
The study, which is to determine if there is an ecological reason to call a halt to a plan for a quarry nearby, begins and we spend time with each of the three women scientists. The first two-thirds of the book is spent in their company as we get to know them and follow them in their work, and through them, we get to know the surrounding community and residents who are supporting and opposing the quarry.
During all of this time, Vera Stanhope doesn't make an appearance. (Well, actually, she does make one appearance but she is never identified; however, I recognized her from her description.) But then a second death occurs and this time it is clearly murder and that brings Vera and her team on the scene. Then we get to watch her in her unique investigative style as she gets to know the characters and potential victims and/or suspects and homes in on the perpetrator. I had seen the show that was based on this book but it had been some years ago and, frankly, I did not remember who that was and so I was surprised once again when the murderer was unmasked.
The best thing about the book for me was the way that Cleeves was able to draw me into the lives of each one of the main characters and explore the psychology behind their actions. Plus there were sufficient red herrings to keep me guessing. Good stuff! A thoroughly enjoyable read.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars