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Monday, May 25, 2015

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves

Pan, 448 pages, £7.99 (UK only) (c2005)

“Telling Tales” is the second book in the series starring DI Vera Stanhope. In the first book, “Crow Trap,” Vera was just one of a group of women whose stories were told in turn. It took seven years for Cleeves to write the second book. Perhaps it took her a while to see the value of the character she had created. Set in Yorkshire, that fecund area of England for crime novels, this (so far) six-book series features Vera, a curmudgeonly, independent, abrasive, plain-looking and plain-talking, but intuitive, inspector.

Like “Crow Trap,” there are a few characters whose trails we follow, but “Telling Tales” is most definitely Vera’s book. Emma Winter Bennett is a young mother. As a fourteen-year-old, ten years ago, she discovered the body of her best friend, Abigail Mantel, in a ditch by Abigail’s home. Abigail’s father’s much younger girlfriend, Jeanie Long, was charged with the murder. It was assumed at the time that Jeanie killed her out of jealousy. Now, however, a witness has appeared, giving Jeanie an ironclad alibi for the time of the murder. Unfortunately, Jeanie has just committed suicide in prison, having despaired of convincing anyone of her innocence.

Vera is assigned the task of reviewing the Mantel case with “fresh eyes” in a neighboring village precinct. She’s an outsider and resented by the local detectives. She and DS Joe Ashworth, her young assistant, uncover a variety of secrets nevertheless.

Ann Cleeves is good at writing about secrets. She seems to reveal a lot about her main characters, while at the same time hinting that something is hiding in the closet. Her characters seem real, vulnerable, burdened. She also writes with rich detail about the culture and scenery. It is worthwhile tracking down a UK copy of this book. Try www.abebooks.com for a good used copy.

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