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Vera Stanhope - the best so far
on 1 February 2011
Jenny Lister was perfect - a caring mother, a committed and principled social worker and, when DI Vera Stanhope opens the door to the steam room at a fashionable health club, perfectly dead. Vera doesn't believe in perfect people - and she's not that keen on social workers.
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".