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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The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

Isn’t it funny how, when you’re hooked on a series and the characters the writer has created, you develop a love/hate relationship with each new book? That’s what happens with me. I get so excited that a fresh instalment is there to lose myself in, then I absolutely hate it when I finish and have to wait for the next one!

This is how it was with The Dark Angel, book number 10. I had been longing for it to come out and, when it did, held off reading it for as long as I could – delayed gratification LOL!

Well, gratified doesn’t begin to describe how lovely it was to lose myself in Dr Ruth Galloways’ fascinating professional life and complicated personal one again. A personal life that is closely interwoven with that of DI Harry Nelson and his family – a family that’s also in the midst of its own difficulties.

In The Dark Angel, the usual setting of east-coast Britain is exchanged for a small Italian village when Ruth is called by an old friend, Dr Angelo Morelli, to help with identifying some bones. Treating it as a working holiday, Ruth takes her daughter, Kate, while her best friend, Shona and her whiny son also accompany them.

Where Ruth goes, trouble and mystery are never far behind – trouble in the form of Harry Nelson who, when he learns an earthquake has struck the region Ruth is in hurries to assure himself of her safety. Mystery is also lurking – not only with the bones, but also through the ritualistic murder of the town’s old priest which happens when Ruth is only days into her vacation.

As Ruth well knows, the present is always contingent on the past and the bones and the dreadful killing of the priest prove this over and again. But so do the Nelsons.

Left at home while Harry runs to his former lover and daughter’s side, his pregnant wife and adult daughter have to face some demons from Harry’s past, and those from more recent times as well – with tragic consequences. I didn’t see the ending coming here, and it is both heart-wrenching and adds a whole new layer of WTF to the personal lives of the characters we’ve grown to know, forgive, and love.

Once more, it’s the characters rather than the plot that make this such an excellent read. While the plot is good, it’s Griffith’s knack for capturing the sense of someone, of conveying their good heart (or otherwise), annoying idiosyncrasies, or sinister intentions in just a few words, through a look or gesture, that add so much to these novels. That, and the slow-burning complexity of the interpersonal relationships between the main characters – most of whom are very good people making unwise or selfish choices with huge ramifications and only now being forced to deal with the consequences… some of which will only be revealed in future books.

Not happy Jan – or should that be, Elly. In this instance, I want immediate gratification! J

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I’ll Keep You Safe by Peter May

I have been a huge fan of Peter May’s Lewis books. Evocative, laden with a sense of place and time, they are simply wonderful reads. I was so excited to discover another of his set in the Outer Hebrides. I snapped up I’ll Keep You Safe as soon as I became aware it was available, finished the book I’d been reading and snuggled down to lose myself in the magnificent story May weaves.

Though a “Hebridean” book, this one commences in Paris with a harried married couple, Niamh and Ruairidh, owners of the successful Ranish Tweed Company, finishing a business trip in Paris. When tragedy strikes, and Nimah must return home alone, both a grieving widow and prime suspect in a brutal murder, little does she know she’s also a potential victim.

Reflecting on her life with Ruairidh, and her feelings for him and how they altered and grew over the years, the story of their courtship, their families, the troubles that both beset them and tore apart the communities in which they matured surface. Woven through the investigation and the reaction of the island community to the Paris tragedy, the past and present beautifully offset one another and set a sombre, mysterious and yet warm tone.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Sylvie Braque, a single mother, leaves Paris to pursue the investigation, carrying her own personal demons and reflections. Trying to rise above them, she begins to understand that though it’s evident Niamh loved her husband, there were those who didn’t – professionally and personally. And it seems their drive for revenge hasn’t yet been satisfied…

  1. Apart from one storyline to do with Sylvie, who is a professional woman, I really enjoyed the first seven-eighths of the book. What stuck in my craw was the notion that a woman, in this instance a divorcee, must be so torn about being a mother and working, she must consider choosing between them. It doesn’t help that Sylvie’s ex is a prick that stirs the embers of guilt every time he speaks to her… but really? Is that all? It is such a tired premise. There are so many compromises that can be made – personal and professional – to ensure a woman can contribute to society as a worker and mother and at the same time. Yes, she will always carry guilt, but this constant self-doubting of Sylvie was on the one hand likely real, but on the other, a bit over the top for such a strong and dedicated woman. It didn’t always ring true. Nevertheless, I liked her and her presence in the tale until she did a really stupid thing towards the end…

And it’s the end I have the most difficulty with, but not because of Sylvie. After being carried by the story, loving the setting, the remembering of Niamh and the way the narrative segued back and forth and using different PoVs, I am not sure what happened in the last few chapters. It’s as if May thought, gee, I had better wind this up now and, instead of resolving it in a way that was in keeping with the rest of the tale, rushed through to a WTF ending. For me, it was barely believable – ridiculous even. I rolled my eyes, stared at the pages, remained incredulous and cross after finishing and wondered how such a good, strong story could be ruined. I am all for suspending disbelief, but this was way more than that. I was forced to throw it out the window. The motivation of the perpetrator, the unlikely sequence of events and appearances, even the actions of a character earlier were all just crazy in terms of a solid, consistent story. The fact it was brought to a close in a few pages didn’t help either, particularly in light of one narrative strand which definitely needed more explication than, “I thought it better not to tell you” or thereabouts.

After thinking I would give this book another five stars, despite my feelings about Sylvie, the last eight of the book barely deserves a one.

I feel so disappointed that I can’t give this book more and I am curious how others felt about the ending too. May never usually lets his readers down but I feel after building this one up, he dropped me off a narrative cliff into a raging sea. I drowned.

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