Valley Farm was a peaceful little community in Northumberland until Percy Douglas stopped his car on the way back from the pub for a call of nature. Because in the ditch that Percy was going to use is a body… Patrick Randle was known to the community, but as little more than a housesitter for two members of the community, but when Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope and her team search the house, the last thing they expected to find was a second body.
The two victims were killed in different ways – one stabbed and one killed with a blunt instrument – but they both have a common interest, namely moth collecting. Surely that couldn’t be the motive for their deaths? As Vera starts to peel back the layers in the lives of the inhabitants of Valley Farm, she finds that any of the inhabitants might be capable of murder…
This is the seventh of the incredibly popular Vera Stanhope series from Ann Cleeves, as portrayed so convincingly by Brenda Blethyn in the ITV series – it’s rarely that a TV interpretation gets it so “right”. I’ve only read the one title in the series to date, Silent Voices – do ignore the comment that I made in the review about revisiting the series in order, I’ve been busy – and really enjoyed that one. Well, my lovely mother-in-law lent me the complete set of Vera books and I decided to read this one at random.
Like Silent Voices, Ann does a great job with a relatively small cast of characters – the inhabitants of Valley Farm, a couple of others and a three-person team of sleuths. There are others in Vera’s team, but this one focuses on her, Joe and Holly, the last of which is doubting her career choices.
The story unfolds gradually, as possible links are found between the two victims and theories are built up and broken down before the truth is revealed. Throughout there is the tantalising thread of the daughter of one couple who is about to be released from prison – how is her situation tied to the murders, if indeed it is? And if it isn’t, what is the point of her story?
At the end of the day, while I enjoyed the book a lot, I did feel that the solution to the mystery was found by a whole chunk of information that wasn’t given to the reader until after the murderer is revealed, so it wasn’t really a play-along, more of a guessing game for the reader. That’s not uncommon in modern crime fiction, and not a deal-breaker, as Ann’s characters, prose and plot twists are very satisfying, but if I did give books scores, this would certainly have knocked a point off. Regardless, this is a very satisfying read.