Silent Voices (Vera Stanhope) Hardcover – 4 Feb 2011
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'Silent Voices is a more traditional crime novel that blends a classic whodunit with a psychological element. Detective Vera Stanhope is a remarkable creation, and her relationship with her sidekick, Joe Ashworth, is at the heart of the story. It shows how the death of a child can have a long-reaching effect on all concerned - parents, siblings and social workers.' --Bookseller
'The novel is a sensible, straightforward, satisfying police procedural, supplying a fair variety of plausible suspects, motives and clues, in a recognisable middle England.'
'All in all, this welcome addition to the Vera Stanhope series is a showcase for the strengths of the author in getting under the skin of apparently ordinary people, and conveying the intense passions that have simmered for years beneath an apparently normal surface.' --eurocrime
'DI Vera Stanhope and sidekick Joe Ashworth struggle to establish a connection between a woman strangled in her gym and the death of a child. Compelling.' --Woman and Home
'Cleeves is excellent not only on the main character, but on the mixture of exasperation and respect she evokes in others. Combined with intricate plotting, this makes for a compulsive read.' --The Independent
'Ann Cleeves is a skilful technician, keeping our interest alive and building slowly up to the denouement. Her easy use of language and clever story construction make her one of the best natural writers of detective fiction.' --Sunday Express
'Cleeves weaves an absorbingly cunning mystery and fans of Vera, the messy, overweight, man-less heroine of this crime series, will soon have a face to put to her, as the actress Brenda Blethyn take on her endearing charactering a forthcoming television series, Vera, based on the books.' --Daily Mail
'Silent Voices is the forth outing for Ann Cleeves's overweight, eczema-ridden middle-aged Vera Stanhope. Vera is brusque, with "a chip on her shoulder the size of Keilder Forest", but she excels because her ordinariness grants her access to everyday lives... The bluntness that bodes well for the ITV adaption...' --Financial Times
'Watch out for Ann Cleeves, author of Silent Voices. Snapped up by ITV, her creation, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, is the new Frost, played by Brenda Blethyn' --Red magazine
'Ornery DI Vera Stanhope - soon to grace our small screens in the form of Brenda Blethyn as ITV's Vera - has her work cut out for her in Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves. Kicking off with a steamy opener as Stanhope discovers a dead body in a sauna... Stanhope enjoys being a bit of a bossy-boots but is a good sort really, relying heavily on her charming sidekick, Joe Ashworth: their ruminations over a fireside pint are requisite to their sleuthing success...' --Time Out
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The investigation oscillates between the semi-private world of the health club and the Tyne Valley village of Barnard Bridge, where Jenny lived. Both communities are hives of gossip, rumour, snobbery and infighting, but is there anything that would justify murder? And is there any connection with the death of six year old Elias Jones, the boy Social Services was supposed to protect?
This is by far the best Vera Stanhope novel to date, with the same strengths and none of the weaknesses. Vera is now well established as the sharp-witted, sharp-tongued detective who is not above using Miss Marple's tactic of a cosy chat over a nice cup of tea ("if you're putting the kettle on, pet"), even if she would prefer whiskey.
Once again, Cleeves maintains a brisk pace, using a well crafted blend of narrative and dialogue. She has a strong sense of place and a feel for the way in which landscape shapes the lives of the inhabitants of England's most sparsely populated county. This is used to dramatic effect in a final race against time when even the forces of nature seem determined to thwart the police as they close in on the killer.
If you haven't read any of the other Vera Stanhope novels, you could do worse than start with "Silent Voices".
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 will definitely be reading the next book in this series and I would not hesitate to recommend this novel - along with its predecessors - to those who enjoy climactic crime thrillers.