Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Crow Trap: Ann Cleeves

An excerpt from the summary at the author's web site:
At the isolated Baikie's Cottage on the North Pennines, three very different women come together to complete an environmental survey. Three women who, in some way or another, know the meaning of betrayal...
For team leader Rachael Lambert the project is the perfect opportunity to rebuild her confidence after a double-betrayal by her lover and boss, Peter Kemp. Botanist Anne Preece, on the other hand, sees it as a chance to indulge in a little deception of her own. And then there is Grace Fulwell, a strange, uncommunicative young woman with plenty of her own secrets to hide...
Towards the beginning of this book, there is a suicide. The reader wonders if it will, in fact, turn out to be a murder. About a third of the way into the book, there is a second death, which is clearly murder.

For the most part, this book is told from the point of view of four women. Each has a section devoted to her, and in those sections the reader is only told what that woman knows and experiences. As each woman's turn comes up, we learn facts and background that reveal more about events that were first described earlier. I enjoy books told in unusual formats. Because this one moves from one woman to the next, it is not confusing but adds layers of understanding.

The first three women are Rachel, Anne, and Grace. Rachel and Anne have known each other and worked together; Grace is new to the group, and does not fit in. Not that any of them are best friends and confidantes. The fourth woman is Vera Stanhope, the Detective Inspector who is investigating the second death.

Vera is a large, unattactive woman, unconcerned with looks or fashion. She commands respect, and she is very outspoken. In this interview, Ann Cleeves describes the type of women that Vera was modelled on:
I was born in the mid-fifties and grew up knowing some formidable spinsters – women who’d either lost men during the war, or who had become so independent that they couldn’t settle to conventional marriage. They were teachers or matrons or librarians and they didn’t feel the need to dress smartly or wear make-up to prove they were up to the job. Vera was modelled on those women.
This is a very long book: 552 pages. I was eager to read this series, but had I known the first book was such a chunkster, I would have had second thoughts. However, once I got into the book, the length did not deter me at all. I loved the way the story is told, and the development of the characters. The plot was convoluted but realistic. The setting, in Northumberland, is also well done and important to the story.

Anne Cleeves has stated that The Crow Trap was originally intended to be a stand-alone novel. Then she liked the character of Vera so much that she wanted to write more about her. Based on that, I wonder if later books in the series will have such an unusual structure, and I look forward to finding out.

The Vera Stanhope series has been made into a successful TV series in the UK, starring Brenda Blethyn as Vera. There have been four seasons and a fifth is in preparation. The first three books were adapted in the first season, and a fourth was adapted in a later season. The other episodes are original stories. I have not seen any of this TV series; I will probably give it a try after I have read a couple more of the books.

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Publisher:  Pan, 2010 (original publisher Macmillan, 1999)
Length:    552 pages
Format:   Trade Paperback
Series:    Vera Stanhope
Setting:   North Pennines, Northumberland, England
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased my copy.

14 comments:

  1. Vera has been in my Netflix queue for ages, and the books are on my list as well. Thanks for the interesting post, and I hope I can dig up a copy somewhere when I'm not so busy.

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    1. Well it is very long, Rebecca, but I found it worth the time.

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  2. Conversely I have only watched the TV version and not ready any of the books - thanks TracyK - maybe we both have some VERA catching up to do :)

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    1. Sergio, I would definitely like to see the TV series, but I don't want to see the adaptation before the book, and the first on TV was the third book, so I have to read two more before I can get to it. so, someday....

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  3. Like you I enjoy books that have dual or multiple narration/viewpoints. It sounds an interesting book and I would enjoy it and probably her other series, but I've kind of decided not to go with her, turning down countless opportunities to pick up her books cheaply. I think I need to stick to my guns. You can read them for me, so I don't feel like I'm missing out!
    I do enjoy watching it on the small screen, when I catch it.

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    1. Col, I will read these for you and you can read some of the grittier series for me. Too many books and good authors to keep up with them all.

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  4. I'm really glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy. I like the Vera Stanhope series, and part of the reason is that Cleeves is so good at creating atmosphere. And she does indeed do multiple perspectives very well. And Vera's character is nicely drawn.

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    1. Margot, I plan to continue the series. I do like the way Cleeves writes.

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  5. Tracy, I'm already curious to read some of Ann Cleeves' novels and I hope to read at least one or two from her various series this year. I've read some nice reviews of her books.

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    1. Prashant, I have read two books from her earlier series and two from the Shetland series, and then this one. The later ones are better, but everything I have read by this author is good.

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  6. This is to let you know that I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award
    --- please see here for the details
    http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/inspiring-blog-award.html
    And thank you for the inspiration….

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    1. Thanks so much for nominating me, Moira, and the kind words.

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  7. Hey Tracy, I've wanted to read Ann Cleeves for the longest. I knew her Vera Stanhope series was popular and that she had a TV series based on the character. I keep getting her confused with another writer, too, whose name I can't remember at the moment. Thanks for the interesting review. I will probably read what I already own so I hope they can stand alone well because I think her work was published out of order in the U.S.

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    1. My impression is that they published the fourth Vera Stanhope in the US first, so they must think that they can be read out of order. I hope you like her books.

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