Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves

I first ‘met’ Vera Stanhope in the TV dramatisations of Ann Cleeves’ novels, which I enjoyed. But once I began reading Ann Cleeves’ books I discovered that they are even better than the TV versions! The latest one I’ve read is Harbour Street, the sixth book in the Vera series – it’s fantastic. If you’ve watched On Harbour Street, the TV adaptation broadcast last year, you’ll find that it didn’t strictly follow the book much at all – and you won’t know who the murderer is – it’s a different person in the book!

Harbour Street

This is what I wrote last year about The Glass Room, the fifth Vera book and my thoughts about Harbour Street are just the same:

It’s going to be a contender for my best book of the year, because I loved it. It has everything I like in a crime fiction novel ‘“ setting, characters and a cleverly constructed plot. I didn’t guess who the murderer was but realised afterwards that all the clues had been there, skilfully woven into the narrative, hidden among the dead-ends and red herrings, so that I’d read on without realising their significance.

It’s ten days before Christmas, the Newcastle Metro is packed with shoppers, babies screaming, office workers merry after pre-Christmas parties, teenagers kissing. But when the  train has to stop because of the snow they all pile off the train – except for one old lady, Margaret Krukowski, who was fatally stabbed. No one saw the murder take place even though, or maybe because the train was packed with people, including Detective Joe Ashworth travelling home with his daughter, Jessie, from carol singing in Newcastle Cathedral.

Margaret had lived in a guest house on Harbour Street in Mardle, a coastal town in South Northumberland and it is here that Vera concentrates their investigation with the occupants of the guest house, the Coble, the pub opposite and the Haven, a hostel for homeless women, where Margaret had been a volunteer. It soon becomes obvious that Margaret was a woman with many secrets in her past – stemming from 1970 when her Polish husband Pawel Krukowski had left her.  Then a second murder occurs and an earlier crime comes to light – but who is the killer?

Ann Cleeves is a superb storyteller. Her descriptions get right inside my brain; she has the skill to make the scenes materialise,  in front of my eyes, and not because I’ve seen the TV adaptation which was filmed at a different time of year and in a different place from the location of Mardle in the book. Her characters are fully formed with emotions and feelings, backgrounds and complicated relationships, just as in real life, with all the sights, sounds, sensations and smells. Her dialogue is authentic, never awkward and you are never left wondering who is talking. Her books are deceptively easy to read,  moving swiftly along as the tension rises. They are layered, cleverly plotted and above all convincing. As in her other books I had several suspects in mind but hadn’t realised just how much wool had been pulled over my eyes until Margaret’s killer was revealed.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprints edition (31 July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447202090
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447202097
  • Source: my local library

12 thoughts on “Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves”

  1. I have not read any of Ann Cleeves book at all yet. Meant to for a long time. I’ve gone and ordered the first two in the series from the Interlibrary loan, as I am trying not to buy books right now. Looking forward to reading them. I’ve also not watched the TV adaptations and may wait a bit on that. Your thoughts have really made me want to read this series, Margaret. LOL

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    1. I hope you enjoy the books, Kay. I’ve read the first one, The Crow Trap, which I wrote about in this post – http://www.booksplease.org/2014/02/05/the-crow-trap-by-ann-cleeves/.

      I haven’t read the 2nd and 3rd books, but have read the 4th, 5th and 6th – I need to catch up! The 7th book, The Moth Catcher will be published in the UK in September.

      I also love her Shetland series – have a look at her website for details of all her books – http://www.anncleeves.com/

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  2. I’ve only read AC’s Jimmy Perez books, which I love. I can see that I seriously need to consider reading her Vera series. Especially given how much I love the TV series.

    I do love your new header photo! Is that Barter Books?

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    1. Cath, as I’ve said, much as I like the TV series I much prefer the books.

      I’ve been trying our different headers – this one shows a book sale in the Buttermarket in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

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  3. I was lucky enough to have a short one-on-one conversation with Ann Cleeves at the recent Malice Domestic conference in Maryland. She said she thought it would be best to start watching the Vera series at the second season.

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