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.