The End of Cuthbert Close by Cassie Hamer

This fabulous, delightful read by Cassie Hamer, tells the story of three women who live in the same neighbourhood and share a remarkable friendship, that is, until a newcomer arrives and threatens to disrupt everything that made living in Cuthbert Close special.

Corporate lawyer and mother, Alex, widow, food-stylist and single-mother, Cara, and the oldest of the trio, stay-at-home mother and talented cook Beth, live busy but satisfying lives in a terrific cul-de-sac in an upmarket part of town. Their lives are spent caring for their families, working, socialising, and feeling gratitude for what they have, including each other.

But when one summer’s evening, at the annual street party, a removalist van gate-crashes the event, bringing new neighbours – the svelte and glamourous wife and teen daughter of the lifestyle guru, the Instafamous, Primal Guy, their small world is turned topsy-turvy.

Suddenly, marriages, plans, domestic arrangements and even dreams go awry. Is it just time for things to change, even for the worse, or is something closer to home causing trouble in this suburban paradise?

This is a clever, really entertaining book that not only captures the suburban life of some people, but portrays the complications and joys of motherhood, female friendship, neighbours, relationships, kids and marriages so very well.

The dialogue snaps and is often laugh-out-loud funny but at the same time can deliver depth and be incredibly moving. The women are so relatable with their triumphs, self-doubt, foibles and flaws and you genuinely come to care about them. Likewise, the men and children are familiar types that you can identify with easily.

I so enjoyed this book – found it hard to put down – and even though I saw the twist, it didn’t spoil a thing as I loved how it came together and resolved. A wonderful, charming and yet surprisingly poignant novel, that’s so well written and will linger in your head and heart long after the last page is turned

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The Seagull, Vera Stanhope #8 by Ann Cleeves

This latest novel in the Vera Stanhope series, The Seagull, is a ripper. It opens with Vera being forced by her unsupportive boss to deliver and education lecture in a prison. While there, she encounters a former colleague, John Brace, who has been jailed for crimes and corruption. Ill now, Brace tells Vera about a cold case – claiming he didn’t kill the missing man but knows where the body is buried. He will only tell her if she does him a favour.

What unfolds is an investigation that takes the reader into Vera’s past as, along with the detective, we learn more about her father, Hector and the activities he was involved in before his death. Part of the “Gang of Four”, Hector, and three other men, including a mysterious “Prof” would wheel and deal in illegal fauna. The linking factor between people, past and even present, appears to be a former glamorous club called The Seagull. But, as Vera stumbles closer to the truth of what Brace was trying to reveal to her, she discovers the Gang of Four’s activities might also have involved murder.

Once again, Vera and her team, with all their strengths, weaknesses and glimpses into their personal lives are brought to the fore as the case moves along. Characters and setting are wonderfully drawn and the plot is paced nicely. I love the way Cleeves slowly unpeels a person and their history, before she then builds up layers that make them seem so real and very easy to invest in.

I am already looking forward to a new Vera Stanhope novel and frustrated I know I have to wait a while yet!

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Harbour Street, Vera Stanhope #6 by Anne Cleeves

Harbour Street was yet another book in this series I love and which I thought, having seen and loved this episode of the TV series, I might ‘know’. No. I was wrong. Again. While there are, of course, similarities, in plot and characterisation, the book can take you places the TV series can only dream of going.

The story here centres around an elegant old lady who is mysteriously killed on a train. The clincher is that it’s Joe Ashworth’s eldest daughter who finds the body. Enter, or rather, lumber, our beloved Vera, stage left. Larger than life, kind and sharp, a woman who doesn’t suffer fools but loves to appear one so people constantly underestimate her (which some do to their detriment), Vera knows there’s more to this dead woman, Margaret, than meets the eye, pet. Learning that she lived in a B&B on Harbour Street, sharing responsibility with a young woman, Kate, who has two teenage children, Vera starts to unearth a rather complicated past for our Margaret.

As the novel progresses, more and more people enter the scene and become not just parts of Margaret’s colourful and chequered past, but suspects as well. Cautious around the police, it takes all Vera’s charm and cunning along with the dogged determination of the rest of the team, Joe, Holly and Charlie, to discover not only what people are hiding, but what they fear.

When another body turns up, and Vera guesses the killings aren’t over yet, tracking down the murderer becomes not only a matter of professional pride, but time – and it’s running out.

Cleeves has done it again with a wonderfully evocative, richly character-driven novel from which the people leap fully-formed. Vera is fleshed out even more and it’s so rewarding for those who read the series in order to not only understand and predict how Vera will act in a given situation, but be proven wrong as well. Likewise, Joe, Holly and Charlie are given more complex roles, and their back stories are slowly filled in too.

But it’s place that also takes a lead role here – Harbour Street, full of colour intensity, and locals with their parochial attitudes, reluctance to embrace newcomers, suspicion of the police, and ambivalent relationship with the past they both hide and can’t shed.

And, as I hoped, the plot does steer away from the TV one, so it’s like enjoying two amazing, beautifully structured stories filled with people you invest in and adore in the same setting. Cleeves has done it again – written a cracker of a book.

 

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The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves, Vera Stanhope # 5

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves sees the intrepid Inspector Vera Stanhope thrust into the world of crime writers, aspiring writers, academics and publishers, when a writing retreat produces not just some fine prose, but a dead body as well. It’s also the first in the series I’ve read that I haven’t (yet) seen as an episode in the TV series. As a consequence, I wasn’t struggling to remember what happened (even while trying to stop my mind working that way and simply enjoy the read!) and could just sit back and relish the ride. And what a great ride it is.

Unpopular, but with sway in the book industry, when one of the principal draw cards for the writing retreat is found stabbed in what appears to be staged killing and Vera’s neighbour, Joanna, looks like the culprit, Vera has no choice but to come to her aid. When another body turns up, again in a fashion reminiscent of a fictive crime-scene, Vera and her sergeant, Joe Ashworth, fear the killer is not only unhinged, but hasn’t finished his or her murderous spree.

Every one of the attendees at the writing retreat is a suspect, whether staff, attendee or guest. Each person is hiding a secret shame or just a secret that renders them potentially liable for the crimes. Only Vera isn’t satisfied with what she eventually uncovers through interviews. It’s only when she begins to delve deeper that she discovers not only a series of dark histories, but people will long, unforgiving memories as well.

Slightly different to the other Vera books, The Glass Room harkens back to more traditional crime narratives in the Agatha Christie vein, where a house party of eccentrics in an old, forbidding mansion, with the wild coast as a backdrop, are at once both suspects and victims. More than any other book to date, this one allows the reader access to Joe and Vera’s thought processes and with Joe particularly, we begin to see sides to his character (and his relationship with his boss) that haven’t yet been explored. It also relies on detecting of the gum-shoe variety, where the police have to actually move away from their computers and venture to new places and homes to gather information and find clues.

Another great read from Cleeves and am already looking forward to my next adventure with Vera and co.

 

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Silent Voices, Vera Stanhope #4

Silent Voices is the novel fans of the TV series will appreciate if for no other reason than it’s in this book that Joe Ashworth comes into his own.

While investigating the murder of a social worker, Jenny Lister, who everyone describes as a “good woman”, Vera (who found the body) uncovers links to past cases and a young, troubled mother in jail as well as a former colleague of Jenny’s who has been hounded out of her job and town and now lives in the same village.

As Vera, Joe and the team investigate, a series of possible suspects with historical links to each other and a health clinic called Willow emerge. But when another person is found murdered, the case becomes even more complex than Vera imagined. Knowing she has to solve it before more people lose their lives, the hunt for the killer and, more importantly, his or her motivation, becomes fraught.

Wonderfully plotted and written, what is really rewarding for fans is that we get to not only see the case through Joe’s eyes and learn more about the way he thinks, but we get to see Vera as he does. Understanding her perhaps better than anyone, Joe is not immune to finding her frustrating, belligerent and demanding, but it’s the way in which he reconciles her less attractive attributes that endears us to him and to his difficult boss.

Another fabulous instalment in a terrific series.

 

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