Ann Cleeves Excerpt: Hidden Depths

Now available in the U.S., Hidden Depths is the third book in Diamond Dagger award-winning crime novelist Ann Cleeves’s Vera Stanhope series, brought to life in the hit TV series Vera (available January 23, 2018).

On a hot summer on the Northumberland coast, Julie Armstrong arrives home from a night out to find her son murdered. Luke has been strangled, laid out in a bath of water and covered with wild flowers.

This stylized murder scene has Inspector Vera Stanhope and her team intrigued. But now, Vera must work quickly to find this killer who is making art out of death. As local residents are forced to share their private lives, sinister secrets are slowly unearthed.

And all the while the killer remains in their midst, waiting for an opportunity to prepare another beautiful, watery grave…

Chapter One

Julie stumbled from the taxi and watched it drive away. At the front gate she paused to compose herself. Best not to go in looking pissed after all those lectures she’d given the kids. The stars wheeled and dipped in the sky and she almost threw up. But she didn’t care. It had been a good night, the first with the girls for ages. Though it wasn’t the girls that had made it so special, she thought, and realized there was a great soppy beam on her face. Just as well it was dark and there was no one to see.

At the door she stopped again and scrabbled through the eyeliner pencils and lippy-stained tissues and loose change in her bag for her key. Her fingers found the scrap of paper which had been torn from a corner of a menu in the bar. A phone number and a name. Ring me soon. Then a little heart. The first man she’d touched since Geoff had left. She could still feel the bones of his spine against her fingers when they’d danced. It was a shame he’d had to leave early.

She snapped the bag shut and listened. Nothing. It was so quiet that she could hear the buzz of the evening’s music as a pressure on her ears. Was it possible that Luke was asleep? Laura could sleep for England, but her son had never seemed to get the hang of it. Even now he’d left school and there was nothing to get up for, he was usually awake before her. She pushed open the door and listened again, slipping her feet out of the shoes that had been killing her since she’d got out of the metro hours before. God, she hadn’t danced like that since she was twenty-five. There was silence. No music, no television, no beeping computer. Thank the Lord, she thought. Thank the fucking Lord. She wanted sleep and sexy dreams. Somewhere on the street outside an engine was started.

She switched on the light. The glare hurt her head and turned her stomach again. She let go of her bag and ran up the stairs to the bathroom, tripping halfway up. No way was she going to be sick on the new hall carpet. The bathroom door was shut and she saw a crack of light showing underneath it. From the airing cupboard there came the faint gurgle of water which meant the tank was refilling. And wasn’t that typical? It took hours of persuasion to get Luke into the shower in the morning, then he decided to have a bath in the middle of the night. She knocked on the bathroom door but there was no urgency about it. The queasiness had passed again.

Luke didn’t answer. He must be in one of his moods. Julie knew it wasn’t his fault and she should be patient, but sometimes she wanted to strangle him when he went all weird on her. She crossed the landing to Laura’s room. Looking down at her daughter, she came over suddenly sentimental, thought she should make the effort to spend more time with her. Fourteen was a difficult age for a girl and Julie had been so caught up with Luke lately that Laura almost seemed like a stranger. She’d grown up without Julie noticing. She lay on her back, her spiky hair very black against the pillow, snoring slightly, her mouth open. It was a bad time for hay fever. Julie saw that the window was open and, although it was so hot, she shut it to keep out the pollen. The moonlight splashed onto the field behind the house where they’d been cutting grass.

She returned to the bathroom and banged on the door with the flat of her palm. ‘Hey, are you going to be in there all night?’ With the third bang, the door opened. It hadn’t been locked. There was a smell of bath oil, heavy and sweet, which Julie didn’t recognize as hers. Luke’s clothes were neatly folded on the toilet seat.

He had always been beautiful, even as a baby. Much lovelier than Laura, which had never seemed fair. It was the blond hair and the dark eyes, the long, dark eyelashes. Julie stared at him, submerged beneath the bath water, his hair rising, like fronds of seaweed, towards the surface. She couldn’t see his body because of the flowers. They floated on the perfumed water. Only the flower heads, not the stems or the leaves. There were the big ox-eye daisies which had grown in the cornfields when she was a kid. Overblown poppies, the red petals translucent now. And enormous blue blossoms, which she had seen before in gardens in the village, but which she couldn’t name.

Julie must have screamed. She heard the sound as if someone else had made it. But still Laura slept and Julie had to shake her to wake her. The girl’s eyes opened suddenly, very wide. She looked terrified and Julie found herself muttering, knowing that she was lying, ‘It’s all right, pet. Everything’s all right. But you have to get up.’

Laura swung her legs out of bed. She was trembling, but not really awake. Julie put her arm around her and supported her as they stumbled together down the stairs.

They stood like that, wrapped up in each other’s arms, on the doorstep of the neighbour’s house and the silhouette thrown on the wall by the street light made Julie think of people in a crazy three-legged race. One of those pub crawls that students went in for. She leaned against the bell until the lights upstairs went on and footsteps came and she had someone to share the nightmare with.


Copyright © 2018 Ann Cleeves.

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Ann Cleeves writes two series of traditional mysteries, both of which have been turned into hit TV series. The Vera Stanhope books have been made into the hit series Vera starring Brenda Blethyn and is available in the U.S. through Amazon, Hulu, and Acorn TV. Ann was presented the Lee Child Dead Good Readers’ Award for Best Loner or Detective for Vera, and in 2017 she was awarded the CWA Diamond Dagger Award. Ann Cleeves lives in England.

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