Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Silent Voices – Ann Cleeves

Crime Fiction
4*s

Having returned to the Vera series with Silent Voices after far too long a break I welcomed this unattractive, blunt and uncompromising woman into my life not in any small part due to her brilliant detection skills.

The victim in this book is a social worker, found dead in a sauna by our very own Vera, yes an unlikely habitat for our steely detective, but even Vera realises she is mortal and had taken the advice to get some exercise and swimming appealed the most.

Vera is very much hoping that Jenny Lister died of natural causes but it isn’t to be and I chuckled to watch her brazen it out to her colleagues who were called to the scene to investigate the murder, not that they’d let even the merest whisper of surprise escape their lips in front of the formidable Detective Inspector.

Ann Cleeves gives us a puzzle with plenty of suspects, nearly everyone who appears could be viewed with suspicion, whilst managing to be thoroughly entertaining at the same time. With characters to become involved with, not least Vera’s sidekick, Joe Ashworth who finds Vera’s demands are in direct conflict with those of his wife during the course of this book this really does fit the bill as a modern police procedural. The sub-genre is one where I firmly believe the key investigator, in this instance Vera, needs to move the investigation along, despite real-life, this isn’t really a team sport and certainly not easy when the clues seem to point in different directions. Vera is the power behind the investigation without relegating her colleagues to idiots, they are just don’t shine quite as brightly as she does! The other secret of a success in this genre is to ensure the reader is invested in the investigation and the asides to the rest of the team are inserted just often enough to make sure that everything is explained well without ever entering that dangerous whiff of being patronising.

I like my crime books to have some humour and Vera’s very dry variety fits the backdrop of murder incredibly well with the perspective changing from third person to first so that we ‘hear’ Vera’s opinions in the raw so to speak, as well as watch others jump to attention to do her bidding, she really is an imposing character. I’m also a fan of probing the stories behind the headlines and at the time of publication of Silent Voices, there were lots of stories in the UK papers about Social Workers and their perceived failings. The author is thereby allowing the readers to feel they had their finger on the pulse of the debate whilst also encouraging a look at the issues from a number of viewpoints, not distilled into a bald headline which can’t ever take in the complexities of the whole issue.

One of the biggest draws of this particular lead character is her undisguised love of the drama of a murder investigation which really pulls the story forwards and how refreshing to have a Detective inspector who isn’t so hung up on the politics of the force that she is afraid to take risky decisions. The plot is unbelievably tangled with the reader needing to concentrate almost as much as Vera on the minutiae of information to be even within a whisker of a chance of solving the crime, and it is brilliantly executed – no saggy middle for Vera Stanhope, well not in the book although I would imagine stumbling across a dead body in the sauna is probably gives her just the excuse she wants to hang up her swimsuit!

I was delighted to read Silent Voices as my twenty-fifth read in the Mount TBR challenge, especially as I realised that I originally purchased this book way back in May 2012! The bonus is that I am lagging behind having just read number four in the series so have four more to enjoy to catch up!

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First Published UK: 4 February 2011
Publisher: Macmillan
No of Pages:  384
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

In a Dark Dark Wood – Ruth Ware

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller
5*s

In a dark, dark wood there was a dark, dark house;
And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark, room;
And in the dark, dark room there was a dark, dark cupboard;
And in the dark, dark cupboard there was…a skeleton!
—-traditional Halloween tale

Well this book is perfectly suited to an autumnal evening such is the oppressiveness of the mystery that is held within the pages of this book.

This spooky story starts with Leonora, now known as Nora being invited to the hen party of her former friend, Clare. The invite comes from the unknown Flo but Nora isn’t sure she wants to join the rest of the hens in the woodland hideaway  particularly as she hasn’t spoken to Clare for ten years, ever since the day she left school one day never to return. So we already know something bad has happened in the past and you’d think that since Nora is a crime writer, she would have been alerted to something iffy, but… there wouldn’t be a story if she had done what most of us would do, and made an excuse and not gone, with good reason, after all she wasn’t invited to the wedding. Back to the story, Nora makes contact with another of the hens. Nina and they agree that they’ll both go as support to each other. After all it might be fun!

When the hens arrive at the house they are surprised that the Northumberland getaway isn’t an old creepy home but glass structured house which has views into the woods, but that means that it is easy to feel that anyone who chooses to, can see in. The atmosphere in the house is so realistically portrayed. Six people none of whom know all of the others, except the bride-to-be are forced to have fun together and you can feel the underlying tension which occurs in such unnatural circumstances. Of course part of the problem is that no-one is quite sure who knows their secrets.

The characters are great especially as the tension rises. We meet Clare the bride-to-be who is reserved in the extreme along with her chief bridesmaid Flo who is there to ensure that Clare’s hen do is everything she dreamed of and will do anything to make sure that happens, aka known as a complete control freak! Alongside them we have the token male, Tom who is Clare’s camp friend and Melanie, a new mum of the kind that believes she is the first mother to ever leave her child for the first time. With Nina far more outgoing than the more reserved Nora the first evening gets off to a lively start which isn’t without the threat of exposing long-held secrets and we all know how well drink and secrets mix!

The story is told in part in a series of flashbacks and from the start we know something went badly wrong, but what and to whom, is the mystery that kept me turning those pages. I’m not easily spooked but this author’s descriptive writing style really got me in the zone of an oppressive situation and as a consequence I was more than a little creeped out more than once.

I can’t reveal anything more without potentially spoiling the tale for others but suffice to say that although I loved this I did notice a couple of minor weak points in towards the end but the excellent writing and the fact that it raised a few hairs on my neck means that this book fully deserves all the accolades it has received; I add mine to the long list.

I am very grateful to Random House UK for my copy of this book which was published on 30 July 2015.