I have never before read an Ann Cleeves book (though I have watched and thoroughly enjoy the television series, Shetland, which is based on some of her books), but if The Sleeping and the Dead is any indication of her talent, then I look forward to reading many more.
The Sleeping and the Dead, while a crime novel, is also a psychological thriller. Set in the present, the body of a teenager that has been submerged in a lake for 30 years bobs to the surface, catapulting both the investigative team and those who knew the dead man to explore events that happened a long time ago.
The detective heading the case is a man called Peter Porteous. A loner, he has his own personal demons to deal with. Thorough and old-fashioned, it would be easy to regard him as Inspector Plod, but to do so is to underestimate a man who has seen it all and thus understands how to balance work and life.
Memories are tricky things, and there are many characters in this book with connections to the dead teenager who have secrets to hide, and knowledge they’d rather forget. One in particular is Hannah Cranwell, a prison librarian, who years earlier had a close connection with the dead man and motive for killing him. When someone else involved in the case turns up dead, suspicion once more falls on Hannah.
With what appears to be an eidetic memory, what is that Hannah is not telling Porteous and his colleagues? And why are so many of the people involved not telling the complete truth?
This was a terrifically paced and beautifully written book that had me right until the end where it sort of ended with a whimper, not a bang. After being immersed in the story, I sort of pulled away thinking, “is that it?” and felt slightly disappointed. After drawing the characters and setting so well and establishing great back-stories for the central characters, the links between the murderer and the victims was, in the end, tenuous to say the least. The motivation for murder was incredibly weak; it was not convincing – especially since everything else was so real and logical.
Overall, however, I did enjoy it. I just feel the end, to borrow from the play that forms a centrepiece to the book, Macbeth, was “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing…”