Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves: A review

During my recent struggles with health issues, I took comfort in returning to some of my guilty reading pleasures. One of the chief among these is the Vera Stanhope mystery series by Ann Cleeves. I've been working my way through this series and this is the seventh entry. So far I've found every book to be tightly plotted with well-drawn characters and plenty of social commentary and philosophical observations on human nature to go along with the puzzle of the mystery. 

And they are puzzles. I can never guess who the perpetrator is and that held true in The Moth Catcher as well.

Cleeves had a previous career as a probation officer and it seems obvious that that experience has informed her understanding of the UK criminal justice system and those philosophical observations on human nature that I mentioned. Here, she gives us the tale of two very different human beings who are brought together by their interest in moths. One is a recent college graduate, a young ecologist who has been hired by a couple to house sit and care for their dogs while they are in Australia for the birth of their granddaughter. The other is a middle-aged former teacher who is a bit of an outcast, someone who never can quite manage to fit in. They are both passionate about moths and thereby hangs a tale.

When the dead body of the young ecologist is found in a ditch by a country lane, DI Vera Stanhope is called to the scene. When she and her sergeant Joe Ashworth go to the victim's flat to search for clues, Vera stumbles upon a second body. It is that of the former teacher. What could possibly have led to the murder of these two mild-mannered, inoffensive men? Could it have anything to do with their mutual interest in moths?

In investigating the crime, Vera and her team find themselves looking into the lives and secrets of a group of hedonistic retirees who live in the quiet little community of Valley Farm. The three couples would seem to have no real connection to the victims and no motive for wishing them harm and yet Vera's unerring sense of something out of kilter leads her to take a closer look and focus her investigation there. Vera is a brilliant detective and if she thinks that something doesn't add up, it's time to recheck the calculator!

This was an entirely entertaining book to read, but I do have one quibble with the author. She insists on reminding us in practically every chapter that Vera Stanhope is a fat, somewhat slovenly woman with a bad case of recurring eczema that torments her and she's a control freak in her job. The reaction of people who meet her is always that she is a physically unattractive human being. Okay, Ann Cleeves, we get it! You don't have to keep hitting us over the head with it! The beauty of Vera is that of the mind and the indomitable spirit. Her team, who are her only real family, know and appreciate that. And so do her admiring readers.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars  

10 comments:

  1. Sometimes comfort reading is just what the doctor ordered.

    The detective sounds like an interesting character. The moth thing is a bit unusual and seems like it also could add some interest.

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    1. The moth angle was unique. The ecologist was studying how they are affected by climate change, so that was interesting to me.

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  2. I've read one of Vera series, and a couple from the other series (Shetland). They do allow a reader to take their mind off everything else and relax mentally for a while. I love the TV version with Brenda Blethyn. She's great!

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    1. Yes, Blethyn is wonderful in that role. Whenever I read one of the books, I always see Vera as her.

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  3. I think that would get rather annoying to be hit over the head with how she looks all the time.

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    1. It's just repetitive and unnecessary. She's a plain woman with a brilliant mind. Enough said.

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  4. So this is entirely unrelated but I saw the author's name and my first thought was, 'Anne of Cleeves wrote a book?!' My mind has been with the Tudors this morning, so I can't be blamed, really.

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    1. That's hilarious! I had totally not made that connection!

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  5. I find that reading mysteries set in other countries than my own is exciting and eye-opening.

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    1. I do especially enjoy those set in Northern England and Scotland.

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