As a continuation of my occasional series of reviews of crime novels featuring woman protagonists, this week I will be mostly investigating… Vera Stanhope.
Silent Voices is my first venture into the world of Detective Inspector Stanhope of Northumbria Police and it comes after I’d discovered the delights of Brenda Blethyn’s portrayal of her in the ITV crime drama, Vera. Now when I read the book, I can only picture Blethyn in a dirty raincoat and 30 denier tights. She’s a latter-day Columbo of the north-east – all shambling and rambling on the surface and a razor-like logical mind underneath.
Silent Voices kicks off with the unlikely sight of Vera ploughing up and down her local fitness club’s swimming pool, exercising under duress to keep her (very young) GP happy. After a slow eight lengths Vera decamps to the steam room to discover a lifeless body sitting propped up against the wall. Murdered.
The inspector soon discovers the dead woman was a senior social worker involved in the tragic case of the drowning of a young boy by his dysfunctional mother.
The case unfolds gradually, and, reluctant to delegate, Vera takes on the bulk of the interviewing of witnesses and possible suspects, herself (mostly over pots of tea and thick slices of cake). The investigation centres around a small village, where gossip is rife and cliques are tight. Red herrings abound and Vera blunders into a couple of wild goose chases, too high on the adrenalin of the mystery to reign in her own preconceived prejudices: our Vera has little patience for social services or alternative therapists.
A classic police procedural with well-drawn characters and a feisty old bird in charge, Silent Voices has got an awful lot going for it. I look forward to reading The Glass Room (Vera Stanhope 5) when it’s out in paperback.
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