The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves is the first book in her Vera Stanhope series. I’ve been thinking (and writing) about my difficulties in reading books where I think the detail and description swamp the characters and plot, but I had absolutely no problems with that in The Crow Trap – I think Ann Cleeves has got the balance just right.
It begins with chapters about three of the female characters, Rachael, Anne and Grace all staying at Baikie’s an isolated cottage on the North Pennines whilst they carry out an environmental survey. When Rachael arrives at the cottage she is confronted by the body of her friend Bella Furness, who it appears has committed suicide. I was so drawn in by the character portraits and the vivid descriptions of the setting, that I almost forgot that this is a murder mystery. Then Grace is found dead and the mystery really begins.
There is a full cast of characters, all clearly distinct, and a very intricate and clever plot, with plenty of red herrings subtly masking the important clues. Vera is a great character and even though I do like Brenda Blethyn’s portrayal of her in the TV series, I prefer her as she is in the books – a woman in her fifties, who looks like a bag lady. Here’s a description of her when she first interviews Rachael and Anne:
She was a large woman – big bones, amply covered, a bulbous nose, man-sized feet. Her legs were bare and she wore leather sandals. Her square toes were covered in mud. Her face was blotched and pitted so Rachael thought she must suffer from some skin complaint or allergy. Over her clothes she wore a transparent plastic mac and she stood there, the rain dripping from it onto the floor, grey hair sleeked dark to her forehead, like a middle-aged tripper caught in a sudden storm on Blackpool prom. (page 230)
And this description too:
Vera was wearing a dress of the sort of material turned into stretch settee covers and advertised in the Sunday papers. (page 406)
The identity of the killer foxed me. I kept changing my mind about who I thought it was and when it was revealed I was surprised, because although I’d worked out the motive, I’d got the circumstances completely wrong!
The My Kind of Mystery theme began on 1 February and this book really is ‘my kind of mystery’. A most satisfying book.