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on 20 September 2009
Ann Cleeves has a great sense of timing - she builds her narrative steadily, ratcheting up the tension so you hardly notice just how involved you've become with the characters and their dilemmas . Fantastic character portraits (particularly that of Anne) keep the large cast distinct. The story is clever, plausible and really very satisfying. Ultimately, the reason the characters, places and story are so vivid is because of her use of language: she uses words with precision and confidence. Pan Macmillan - reprint this book!
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on 10 May 2014
‘The Crow Trap’ (1999) by Ann Cleeves is the first novel I’ve read by that author and I was highly impressed. The first half reminded me of classic novels such as ‘The Moonstone’ (Wilkie Collins) and various 18th century epistolary novels (e.g.’Humphrey Clinker’ by Tobias Smollett) in which the reader discovers characters through each other’s eyes. In effect, this part of the work is kaleidoscopic.
It opens with the suicide of Bella Davison (but is that her name?) and the subsequent meeting of her work associates Rachael, Anne and Grace. I’d been drawn to the book by the TV series ‘Vera’ and instantly recognised my heroine in an uncredited appearance at a funeral on P.62 – ‘...a woman in her fifties, The first impression was of a bag lady, who’d wandered in from the street. She had a large leather satchel slung across her shoulder and a supermarket carrier bag in one hand. Her face was grey and blotched. She wore a knee-length skirt and a long cardigan weighed down at the front by the pockets. Her legs were bare. Yet she carried off the situation with such confidence and aplomb that they all believed that she had right to be there.’ She appears, tweaks the reader’s interest and disappears, like so much else in the book. She also, like Christie’s Poirot, has a deplorable tendency to eavesdrop; for Poirot this had been a point of criticism and I’m tempted to see it as a weakness in this book.
The lives and backgrounds of Rachael, Anne Preece and Grace Fulwell are described over the first 220 pages with Grace’s death mentioned on P. 81 but ‘murder’ isn’t specified till P. 231 - just after the arrival Inspector Vera Stanhope who thereafter dominates the book, even though for much of the time she’s ‘off-stage’. This is a beautifully crafted novel in which the reader is gently dragged backwards and forwards through time. Men tend to form a background to the FEMALE protagonists and they appear to possess differing natures - nasty (Peter Kemp), scheming (Neville Furness), weak (Jeremy Preece)and muddled (Godfrey Waugh). Can any of them be the killer or is it a powerful woman (like Edie Lambert) who muscles in on the action? Beware some of these paths suddenly disappear and leave the investigating reader with a dead end.
A word of warning to the reader. Try to read this novel in as few sessions as possible. I didn’t and so the killer’s exposure came as a surprise. I’m sure the clues are there but with the doings of a collection of individuals both then and now, sometimes interacting and sometimes not, can become confusing – as well as fascinating.
All in all, however, I would award ‘The Crow Trap’ five stars.
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VINE VOICEon 24 January 2011
"God save me from forceful women", says DS Joe Ashworth at one point. This throwaway remark catches the essence of the book.

The story revolves around three women who are camped out in an isolated cottage whilst they carry out an environmental survey on the site of a proposed quarry. It opens with the suicide of a fourth woman, Bella. The official explanation is that Bella was unable to cope with the strain of caring for her sick husband. Her friend Rachel isn't convinced - Bella was a strong woman - and sets out to investigate.

Suicide isn't a police matter and so, although this is badged as "A Vera Stanhope Novel", the formidable Detective Inspector doesn't enter the story properly until half way through, after the first murder. Is this linked to the quarry development or the victim's past?

As "The Crow Trap" progresses, we learn how the past and present experiences of the women whose lives (and deaths) have somehow become interlinked with the cottage and the surrounding countryside. The excellently crafted and largely plausible plot reminded me at times of Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell), although Cleeves is less psychologically disturbing and I thought that the final piece in the jigsaw was a bit contrived.

Cleeves doesn't go in for long descriptive passages, but evokes a scene or a character through in a few well-chosen appeals to all the senses; the colour of a curtain or the texture of a face. She also makes extensive use of dialogue, reflecting DI Stanhope's philosophy that crimes are as likely to be solved by listening to gossip as by forensic analysis.

"The Crow Trap" isn't in the first division of detective literature but it's a good page turner that invites you to form your own theories and keeps you guessing until the very end. Vera Stanhope is a wonderful character and I'm looking forward to seeing how she develops in later novels.
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on 27 March 2016
At 550 something pages, this took me a lot longer to read than the other Vera books. Vera herself (albeit very fleetingly) doesn't make an appearance until page 200 and something. The sections about Rachael, Grace and Anne I felt could have been a little less involved, and the book shorter without detracting from the plot. But on the whole it was an excellent story, and I will read the rest of them.
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A small Northumbrian community is divided about plans for a quarry. Will a field study of local natural habitat help sway opinion? Suddenly a suicide(?), followed by a murder. Enter DCI Vera Stanhope. She is inspired by the concept of a crow trap, where a caged crow attracts another with no chance of escape. If the surviving field study members remain in their cottage, will the killer be tempted out into the open? It is a strategy worth trying, but all could go horribly wrong....

The novel is rich in atmosphere, landscape and key inhabitants thoroughly explored. Throughout is a psychological delving into minds, so many haunted by secrets in their past.

Overshadowing all is Vera herself (she also with secrets). Virtually part of the scenery, and easily mistaken for a bag lady, she is famed for results obtained by unconventional means. Her sudden appearances are designed to disconcert. Her love of a good gossip is not as innocent as it seems. Much tea is imbibed, although she would prefer beer. Here is a truly colourful character, dominant whenever she is around.

Unfortunately, except for a fleeting glimpse, Vera does not really arrive until past page 200, all that precedes conducted at a very slow pace. Although much intrigues, at over 500 pages the novel may represent for some readers a far too leisurely unfolding. ("Telling Tales", next in the series, is at least 100 pages shorter.)

Full marks to all who identified the killer! I was way out.

Despite reservations, recommended - not least for the introduction of somebody so formidable and unusual. It comes as no surprise a television series followed. I look forward to seeing how it compares.
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on 24 April 2015
Having watched (and enjoyed) the 'Vera' series on TV, I decided to give the books a try and started with Harbour Street - having enjoyed this I went back to the start of the Vera Stanhope series with 'The Crow Trap'. What is immediately apparent to anyone approaching the books in this fashion is how Ann Cleeves has developed not only Vera over the series of novels, but also her general ability to craft a compelling storyline.

Like some of the previous reviews, I found this book to be too long and drawn-out and some of the interaction between the characters was frankly quite irritating. Even the red herrings were quite unsubtle.

My recommendation would be to not let this put you off the remainder of the series, as (if Harbour Street is anything to go by) later books are a step up in the writer's craft
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on 27 August 2014
Vera burst into the literary scenes back in 1999 and both she and her creator Ann Cleeves have put the North East of England firmly on the literary map.

Set mainly in the remote landscape of the North Pennines, three very different women come together to complete an environmental survey.

They are to stay at a local cottage and live together whilst their work is completed. But each of the woman comes with more baggage that than which contains their soil collecting samples and landscaping equipment.

Each has a link to the land in some way and a personal search for answers of some sort. The land is of interest to a local quarry business and the local farm is at the centre of the area being studied.

But what Rachel finds there on arrival shocks her to the core and reveals a deep seated mine of intrigue and ultimately murder.

Cue Vera and her acerbic wit and investigative style – this is a Northern detective with a harsh exterior but a softer centre – just don’t underestimate her that’s all we’re saying. This is her patch and she is after the truth…..

In the Crow Trap, we head over the North Pennines for the windswept and desolate moors, but not before visiting the stunning sights of Northumberland such as the Wooler, RAF Boulmer , Kimmerston and the stunning surroundings of this beautiful part of the world

For this is where three women have gathered in order to carry out an environmental study. But it turns out that the environment is not really what they are concerned with and that they each separately have reasons for being there and secrets that they are careful to keep hidden.

The North Pennines where the team are carrying out a environmental study – the rocks, crags and natural habitat are described with the Ann Cleeves magic. As Rachel, one of the women in the study starts to prepare the area to study.

But throughout there is sense of the rawness, the remoteness and the starkness of the landscape – a perfect backdrop to the novel’s underlying theme of secrets, betrayal and hidden agendas….

Ann Cleeves worked as a probation officer, a bird observatory cook and auxiliary coastguard. All of these threads are brought together in this most atmospheric of novels.

Vera herself doesn’t appear until half way through the novel – instead we hear the three woman speak in turn about what has brought them to the area and the study. But take notes as a lot of clues and strands to the mystery are hidden in the moors, down the quarry amongst the stones and in the desolate buildings.

Welcome to the North Pennines and Northumberland

Ann Cleeves is a literary guide of many talents.
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on 12 February 2016
Ann Cleeves books are difficult to put down - whether it is the Vera series or the Highland series. This book is full of intrigue and will keep the reader guessing until the end. Who is the murderer? Is it one of the girls, is it their boss - it is difficult to work out until nearly finishing the book. Then everything becomes clear and you wonder why you could not work it out earlier. The television series of Vera Stanhope does not do the story justice - therefore do not let it put you off reading the books. Vera Stanhope's character will make you laugh out loud while you wonder if she is exceptionally intelligent or just very astute. Is her clumsy questioning just an act to get people to open up to her?

Other reviewers have more or less discussed the story line - so I will not expand on this or give the plot away.
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on 16 January 2015
I started reading the VERA books, fortunately in the wrong order. If I had read the Crow Trap first , it would have been my last. This book was so slow and too much time wasted on the characters, which could have been cut by Hal. Vera was not in the book for ages and Joe even less.
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on 25 December 2016
I love the Vera TV series so decided to buy the books, I was not disappointed, they are fantastic, really well woven cozy crime books, not to be missed, you've not read crime until you've read an Anne cleeves book, enjoy, I'm enjoying mine!!
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