The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves

The Darkest Evening is the ninth book in the Vera Stanhope series by Ann Cleeves, the title having been taken from a poem by Robert Frost. I am a big fan of Ann Cleeves’ writing, and have read all the #Vera and #Shetland books (as well as being an avid viewer of the TV programmes).

The book opens with Vera getting caught in a blizzard on her way home, and finding a baby in an abandoned car. Heading for the nearest signs of civilization, she ends up at Brockburn, a large country house belonging to her late father’s family. When baby Thomas’s mother is found murdered nearby, Vera calls in Joe, Holly and the rest of her team, though the investigation is hampered by the extreme weather conditions.

A strong sense of place is always evident in Ann Cleeves’ writing, and The Darkest Evening is no exception. In some ways this is a modern slant on the classic country house mystery, with a large cast of characters and red herrings galore, set amid the snowy Northumbrian landscape.

As Vera and her officers search for the killer, many closely guarded secrets are revealed. This is a small community where everyone knows each other’s business and gossip is rife. Ann Cleeves repeatedly leads her readers in the wrong direction, up dead ends, until all is finally revealed.  

As Vera last visited Brockburn with her father when she was a teenager, we get a bit more background about the Stanhope family, and why Vera does not have much to do with them these days.  

The Darkest Evening has all the hallmarks of an excellent crime novel – fantastic plot, brilliant writing and strong character development. Despite having a large cast of characters, we have no trouble telling them apart as Ann Cleeves works her magic and brings them to life on the page.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book but, while it works well as a standalone, you would enjoy it all the more if you read all the other Vera stories first.