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).
From the very first sentence of Ann Cleeves’s book Raven Black, she had a fan in me. I also love Vera on TV, so I was excited to dig into the third book in the Vera Stanhope series, Hidden Depths. While this is the third book in the series, those who have seen the TV show may remember this story from the very first episode.
Hidden Depths is set on the Northumberland coast. Julie Armstrong comes home to discover that her son is dead in the bathtub, covered in wildflowers. The artful death has obviously been staged, and only one room away from Julie’s daughter. Inspector Vera Stanhope is called to investigate, and it’s not long before a second body is found—this time in a rock pool, covered in similar blooms. I don’t recall ever reading another book where the word “flowers” is so menacing.
As Vera’s investigation progresses, it begins to focus on the friends of the second victim who found her body and their relationship with the victims and one another. This is where the intriguing maze of the plot is filled with great characterization. Cleeves has a knack for nailing quirky and fabulous characters and spreading delicious little details.
Julie couldn’t stop talking. She knew she was making a tit of herself, but the words spilled out, and the fat woman wedged in the Delcor armchair that Sal had got from the sales last year just sat there and listened. Not taking notes, not asking questions. Just listening.
'He was an easy baby. Not like Laura. She was a real shock after Luke. A demanding little madam, either asleep or crying or with a bottle in her gob. Luke was…' Julie paused trying to find the right word. The fat detective didn’t interrupt, just gave her the time to think. '… restful, peaceful. He’d lie awake all day, just watching the shadows on the ceiling. A bit slow talking, but by then I’d had Laura and the health visitor thought that was why. I mean, she was so bright and taking up all my time and sucking my energy, that Luke had got left out. Nothing to worry about, the health visitor said. He’d catch up as soon as he started nursery. Geoff was still living with us, but he was working away a lot. He’s a plasterer. There’s more money in the south and he went through one of those agencies, ended up working on Canary Wharf … It was a lot to cope with, two kids under three and no man around.'
Then the woman did respond, just nodding her head a touch to show that she understood.
Of course, the fat detective she’s speaking about is Vera. It seems only fair that we give our heroine equal time so that those new to her can get a bit of flavor:
When Vera arrived home that evening, there was a buzzard sailing over her house. The rounded wings were tilted to catch the thermals and the last of the sun caught it, so it shone like polished wood, carved in a totem. The buzzards were only just returning to this part of Northumberland. Common in the west of the county, the keepers here had shot them to buggery, stamped on eggs, put out poisoned bait. Vera knew there was a keeper on a neighbouring estate with murdering tendencies.
Let him try, she thought. Just let him try.
Inside, the house was stuffy and untidy. She’d not been home for twenty-four hours. She opened windows, picked up mucky clothes from the bedroom floor and shoved them in the washer in the lean-to. Then she wondered if there might be anything in the freezer worth eating. Since the death of her father Vera had lived alone and knew she always would now. There was no point considering whether she could have survived a relationship. There had been someone once who’d kept her awake at nights dreaming, but nothing had come of it. It was too late now for regrets.
Inspector Vera Stanhope has her foibles, and it’s this characterization—and the depth of the of the Northumberland seaside—that drives this novel.
Vera fans will love Hidden Depths, and so will anyone who loves great characterization, elegant plots, and mysteries steeped in the English seaside. Speaking of things Vera fans will love: the actress who plays Vera, Brenda Blethyn, is attending this year’s Malice Domestic convention where she will be honored. It’s a great chance to see the actress who plays Vera in person and hear about how she approaches the role.
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Deborah Lacy’s short mystery fiction has appeared in Mystery Weekly Magazine, the Bouchercon Anthology: Blood on the Bayou, and she has a story coming up in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She also runs the Mystery Playground blog.