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Cleeves, Ann - 'Hidden Depths'
Hardback: 320 pages (Feb. 2007) Publisher: Macmillan ISBN: 1405054735

Twelve-year-old Luke Armstrong is a troubled boy, diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. His only friend, Thomas, drowned several months ago despite Luke's best efforts to save him. So when Luke's mother discovers her son dead in the bath, her first reaction is suicide. But there are flowers strewn in the bath, floating on the water, and the police quickly establish that he was murdered. Surely he couldn't have been murdered at home with his fourteen-year-old sister sleeping in the next room?

Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope is assigned the case. Because Vera is plain, overweight, middle-aged and drinks to a little too much, it's very easy for people to underestimate her. Just because people dismiss her as a plodding lump, it doesn't mean that she doesn't have a keen mind.

The case takes on a new urgency when another body, that of Lily, a young student teacher, is found floating in a rock pool at the beach, her body posed in the same way as Luke's.

Vera's attention turns to the group who found Lily, four men who share a keen interest in bird-watching. All deny knowing Lily and the other victim, Luke, but are they telling the truth? Vera becomes convinced that the solution lies somewhere in their lives, but where? And what is the connection between the two victims? Indeed, is there one at all, or have they been chosen at random?

The author, Ann Cleeves has a gift for setting. Her previous novel, RAVEN BLACK, set in the Shetland Islands, evoked a very strong sense of place. Likewise, HIDDEN DEPTHS is very clearly a novel of North-East England: there's something in Vera's outlook on life and her persona that I can't quite pin down.

HIDDEN DEPTHS is the third in the Vera Stanhope series and was my first encounter with her. I had read several chapters before I realised that I hardly knew anything about her. I thought that perhaps this was going to be a book where the detective was merely a device to access the mystery. However Vera's character and life are slowly revealed through her thoughts and feelings. It's a very clever way of doing it and for me, heightened my interest. By the time I'd finished the book I felt I knew Vera quite well. Ann Cleeves has two successful series under her belt: George and Mary-Palmer Jones, amateur sleuths and bird-watchers and the Inspector Ramsay series. Not content with that, RAVEN BLACK was the first in a planned quartet of books based in the Shetland Islands and of course, there is the Vera Stanhope series. There are also a number of standalone novels to her name.

For readers like me who are unashamed fans of Cleeves' writing, there is plenty to choose from. If you are a reader of crime fiction and you haven't yet met any of Ann Cleeves' characters, then you are in for a treat.

Sunnie Gill, Australia
April 2007

last updated 27/04/2007 21:56