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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Silent Voices. Anne Cleeves. Macmillan (2011)

An enjoyable and entertaining crime story. When a woman is found murdered in the sauna of a hotel, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope leads the investigation. The victim was a manager in social services and was connected with a very high profile case where the social worker directly involved in the case had just relocated to the same village where the victim lived. The investigation digs into the connections arising from the case and find that it has threads with the victim that add to the mystery rather than resolve it. The story unfolds very nicely, the reveals are very well staged and the conclusion is sharp and heartfelt.
Vera Stanhope dominates the book, not to the extend of excluding the rest of the cast, she is the driving force of the story and the investigation, everyone else is essentially pulled along in her wake. Anne Cleeves has developed a character who can take on the task and relish it, Vera Stanhope dominates because that is absolutely who she is. The investigation ignites her, it is the thrill of the hunt that pushes her and that  fierce energy puts her center stage in a very natural way. Ann Cleeves gives Vera Stanhope an almost ridiculous reversal of the physical style and shape of most female leads in crime fiction. She is probably overweight, she has eczema and the drinking and personal habits more frequently associated with lone male counterparts. All of which allow her vibrant, fantastically cantankerous personality shine out all the more, Vera does not have to worry about any aspect of femininity, her looks are never a problem.
The rest of the cast all shine a little less brightly by comparison, none are simply convenient sketches, all of the cast are given care and attention, all given the chance to be themselves. In particular Ann Cleeves has given convincing life to two women who could easily have been shadows, pulled into the life of a tower of selfishness, instead in a nicely understated way both are given voices and hearts of their own that lead them to unexpected directions.
The plot mechanics are excellent, the threads nicely obscure and then pull together to reveal a nasty line of connections and reactions that in turn create their own connections and reactions. The cast outside of the investigation are caught so closely in the plot that they are in danger of just be puppets, Anne Cleeves manages to balance the humanity and the plot effectively enough so that the motives spring from the cast rather that via them.
This is a one woman show, happily the star is more that capable of bringing it off, Vera Stanhope is well worth spending time with.

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