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on 11 June 2015

During the prior couple of weeks, I’d read some relative heavyweights so turned to my bookshelves for something lighter. Not poorly written – heaven forbid anything of that ilk should ever find its way there – but lighter in the context that a tired old brain might simply absorb the words and take itself along for the ride. I could not have picked anything better for the purpose!

Ann Cleeves’ Harbour Street is the sixth in a series devolving upon her character, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope. Vera, an aging lady of heroic proportions, is a charismatic, intuitive old school copper but one who has moved pretty well with the times. She is supported by her sergeant, Joe Ashworth, a young family man in whom – although she feels he may lack a bit of imagination – Vera has instilled many of her values. He is, perhaps, the nearest thing she has to a son. There are other police involved but main among them is the young fashion plate Holly, bright enough but needing the odd prompt.

“(Detective Sergeant) Joe Ashworth and his daughter Jessie are swept along in the jostling crowd onto the Metro. But when the train is stopped due to bad weather, and the other passengers fade into the swirling snow, Jessie notices that an old lady hasn't left the train: Margaret Krukowski has been fatally stabbed as she sat on the crowded train. Nobody, including the policeman himself, sees the stabbing take place.”

Thus is the scene set for a murder investigation.

The elegant and slightly enigmatic Margaret has always been attractive to the opposite sex and, even though now old, still retains an ability to turn men’s heads. But who would want to murder a fine, upstanding woman so heavily involved in altruistic works at the local church and a nearby home for women? She appears entirely respectable… until the investigation into her death turns up evidence of an entirely different past.

It is the past that attracts Vera Stanhope’s attention and the past that provides the link that eventually solves the case for her. Like all good murder mysteries, Harbour Street is full of twists and turns, with new evidence creating different possible scenarios as to who, how and why. The case is not easy for Vera and her team, with the residents of the street in this seaside town frequently reluctant to open up.

It is not a book in which the reader is meant to solve the case. Although there will be reasonable – and ultimately justified – suspicion of one character, the final answer will not come until the last few pages. As with the tired old brain I mentioned at the start, just go along wit the story. Allow it to develop, and enjoy the journey.

I had never before read any of Ann Cleeves’ work so it was a new experience for me. That I enjoyed her story and will keep an eye out for others written by her should speak well for her work. It is both well written and entertaining. I give it 4 stars out of 5.
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First Sentence: Joe pushed through the crowd.

The last think Detective Joe Ashworth expects when taking his daughter Jessie Christmas shopping, is that she will find a dead body on the Metro. Margaret Krukowsky had been a long-term resident at Harbour House, but even those who spent time with her, know almost nothing about her. Only when a second woman dies, do the facts start to come forward, and put Jessie in danger.

How nice to have a story opening at the beginning of the actually story; no prologue. Not only is the setting established, but we also have a sense of the character for one of the protagonists, Joe. And Vera; how can one not like Vera and her no-nonsense style, her self-awareness—“She didn’t take notes at this point. Notes stopped her concentrating.”--and her awareness of, and relationship to, others: “On the platform in the distance she saw Joe Ashworth. Her sergeant and her surrogate son, her protégé. And her conscience.”

One sign of a really good author is when one wants to share passages and dialogue from the book with others. With Cleeves, it’s hard to know where to stop, short of the entire book. It is also very clever of Cleeves to allow us into Vera’s internal narrative, as well as see her from the perspective of others—“…Holly wondered if she’d get a bollocking again for complaining. She felt every contact with Vera Stanhope was like an approach to a large and unpredictable dog. You never knew whether it would lick you to death or take a chunk out of your leg.”

Although Vera is certainly the central character, this is an ensemble cast with each member of her team being significant. It is also nice to learn about the other members of her team, as well as about Vera growing up. All of it combines to provide dimension to the characters. But Cleeves also gives one insight into the other characters, as well. It is nice when a case is solved by footwork, and by following the clues.

“Harbour Street” is another wonderful book by Ann Cleeves, with a complex, twisty plot, including one major twist at the end. If you’ve not read her before, it’s not too late to start.

HARBOUR STREET: A Vera Stanhope Mystery (Pol Proc-Vera Stanhope-England-Contemp) – VG+
Cleeves, Ann – 6th in series
Minotaur Books – Dec 2015
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on 26 April 2015
This is number 6 in the D.I. Vera Stanhope series and I think it's the best so far - and as I have enjoyed them all, that's saying something.
For Kate Dewar life seems to have finally come right - two teenage children Chloe and Ryan, a new relationship with a steady reliable man, the possibility of resurrecting her previous singing stardom and to boot she owns and runs a successful b and b in the small fishing village of Mardle, in Northumberland - life couldn't get much better.......... until the day there is a knock on the door and the police come with news that will break her peaceful life wide open.

Kate has to come to terms with the sad fact that Margaret Krukowski, who lived in the attic apartment at the b and b and was a good friend of Kate and the children, has been stabbed while travelling home by train. Margaret, the gentle refined woman, the woman who helped out at the church and the nearby home for abused women - Who could possibly want her dead. This is a murder that spans a lifetime of secrets and is set to tear the people of Mardle apart.
Vera, with her unorthodox policing, and her team are pitted against a wall of silence - The characters, as usual work well together, Joe the family man and Vera'a favourite member of the team, Holly, very prickly like her name and rather insecure, always trying too hard - and Charlie finally getting over his wife leaving him - all gel together to make a good working team.

I really enjoyed this book, as with most series, it's better to read them in order, as I have done, but in saying that this book stands alone and makes sense without having read the others. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery with great characters.
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It is a couple of weeks before Christmas and a woman is found dead on a train, the same train and carriage that DS Joe Ashworth and his daughter are in. But with no one noticing and no robbery taking place, who could have done it? For Vera she is convinced that finding out more about the victim and where she lives will provide an answer. And as we see here, everything seems to revolve around Harbour Street in Mardle, and the other residents.

In a street that nothing seems to have really happened in for years Vera and her team are starting to find quite some surprises. With people holding back secrets, and some giving false or misleading information it is a matter of sifting through everything, and trying to reconstruct the relationships between others in the street and the murder victim.

With more than one person in danger, and the Ashworths finding that this could reach them, will the culprit ever be found? This novel works so well as the characters go about their lives with a sense of realism, and Vera and her team have different ideas and follow different leads, making it more like it is in real life. As the police go further back into the victim’s past so we read of events from years back, but do they bear any relevance to who committed murder, and why?

As usual this is a good strong tale by Ann Cleeves and one that possibly will bring more fans to her writing, especially the Vera Stanhope series.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 24 January 2014
A young girl, Jesse, discovers a stabbed, dead body on a packed metro. Her name is Margaret Krukowski, a resident in a guest house in Harbour Street, Mardle. Vera Stanhope is soon on the case, prying and probing into why a 70 year old lady was mysteriously killed. Vera loves digging around another person's private life, perhaps because she has none of her own. Margaret Krukowski had married a Polish refugee when young. She helped running the guest house owned by Kate Dewar that had a regular clientele. She was benevolent, helping the church and The Haven, a refuge for homeless women. Police enquiries were leading nowhere. Residents were reluctant to give information on the dead victim, well-known, but Vera was convinced they were hiding information for personal reasons. There are a host of suspects, all with skeletons in their closets.

Ann Cleeves draws the characters in great depth. They are all believable. As the facts are uncovered, the extent of the intrigue within Harbour Street and Mardle becomes apparent. Surprising and shocking revelations come to light. The finale is thrilling as the culprit is hounded and found out. The plot is well constructed and captivating. Vera is a stand out character. The atmosphere of the murder enquiry and locations are superb in this outstanding crime thriller.
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on 12 February 2016
This book is all about crime and mystery. Ann Cleeves, as with all her books, brings the characters to life. There is a mixture of humour, sadness and drama in most of her books. This story was shown on TV, but it was not as good as the book.

Detective Joe Ashworth, Vera’s sidekick, is travelling home on the metro with his daughter Jessie. The train cannot continue to Joe's usual stop due to the bad weather and Joe and Jessie have to get off the train a stop early. As they are getting off the train, Jessie notices that an old lady is still on the train and seems to be fast asleep. Jessie runs back to the train to discover that the old lady is not asleep but in fact dead. This is where the story now begins. DI Vera Stanhope is called to the scene and, after Joe has taken Jessie home, they are on their way to Mardle where the dead woman, Margaret, lived. Vera and Joe find out that Margaret lived in a flat on the top floor of a Bed and Breakfast owned by Kate Dewer. Kate and her two teenage children also live in the house, in a converted basement flat. Kate has at long last found happiness with a teacher from her son’s school. Vera finds it difficult to find details of Margaret’s past - even the people from the church that Margaret attended seem to be keeping quiet. Vera, like a bloodhound, will not let go. She needs to find out why Margaret was murdered and by whom.
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on 17 December 2015
I have seen Vera on TV and liked it but this is the first book about her I have read. As usual the book is better than the TV version.

An old woman is stabbed on a metro train just before Christmas and Sergeant Ashworth and his daughter are in the same carriage.

Investigations centre on the small coastal village where she lived as a helper in a boarding house. It appears that she has a wealthy background and a past that no one knows about. The murder of another woman with links to her complicates things as does the apparent disappearance of her husband 40 years earlier.

The book is well written with strong characters and a story line that does not sag. The finger is pointed at several suspects along the way, although some characters seem too obviously there for a purpose. Personally I would not have identified the killer (there are two) maybe I should have spotted some clues.

I did get the impression that the various police officers did not share information as they should have done, maybe that is a feature of these books. Some details perhaps don't really stand up to close scrutiny.

Nevertheless very readable and recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 June 2014
I've only discovered the Vera Stanhope series recently and I'm not reading in any particular order. I find Vera fascinating as a lead character. She's quirky but plausible. She's not much of a stickler for rules and I really enjoy the way the reader has access to her inner thoughts about her colleagues and the suspects. Those insights often provide the contrast of humour in the midst of darkness.

The cast of characters in this story is diverse. Each has an interesting backstory and events are largely self contained in a small geographic area of Newcastle. But the dialogue keeps the carefully crafted plot moving forward and with a number of suspects, it had me guessing right up to the actual reveal. Really enjoyed it.
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on 30 January 2015
Love Ann Cleeves novels - read quite a few over the years and this one doesn't disappoint. A murder on a train, a resident of Harbour Street, Mardle, a lady of mystery. Where had she been? No motive, no witnesses, even though the train was full, nothing. All local life is linked to the Harbour Street of the title, once a thriving area but has now seen better days. Secrets, long forgotten relationships, missing people, memories not what they were, and locals unwilling or unable to remember the past, when things were much simpler. Then there is a second murder in the village. In to this mix comes Inspector Vera Stanhope, unconventional, clever and has an uncanny knack of getting people to tell all, without realising it. Chatting to the locals gets better results than full on questioning. A clever novel with many twists and turns. The outcome, and who and why, will surprise you.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 January 2015
When the wrong kind of snow stops the metro Jessie Ashworth goes to wake a sleeping pensioner and discovers she's dead. This is the start of another complicated case for Vera Stanhope and her team. The plot is sufficiently complicated with blind alleys and red herrings galore to keep you turning the pages, wondering what will come next. I like reading the "Vera" series as I find them an extremely comfortable read, by that I mean that the plot is logical and easy to follow and the characters are so realistic that I understand their actions and feel as if I know them or if not them people like them.
This book is well worth a read.
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