Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves: A review

Telling Tales is the second Vera Stanhope mystery by Ann Cleeves and it is every bit as wonderful as the first. Once again we are introduced to strong and believable characters and the indomitable investigator who is able to ferret out their deepest, darkest, most closely held secrets in the pursuit of her quarry.

In this instance, Inspector Stanhope is sent to Yorkshire to re-investigate a case that went badly awry. Ten years before, a fifteen-year-old girl, Abigail Mantel, had been strangled and her body left in a ditch there. The local police led by Inspector Caroline Fletcher had quickly settled on Abigail's father's lover, Jeanie Long, as the likely murderer. After all, Jeanie and Abigail had had a fractious relationship after Jeanie moved into the household and Abigail had only recently convinced her father, Keith, to toss Jeanie out. Moreover, Jeanie had been unable to provide a witness to prove that she had gone to London as she claimed on the day of the murder. She was charged, tried, and convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Jeanie never stopped asserting her innocence and she refused to accept responsibility for the death and feign regret and remorse which might have allowed her to be sent to a prison that allowed more freedom or possibly even allowed parole. Finally, despondent over the prospect of spending the rest of her life in prison, she had committed suicide. 

And then a witness came forward who was able to corroborate her alibi for the day of the murder. The witness had been out of the country and unaware of the murder.

Enter Vera Stanhope, tasked with reviewing the case and determining if there were missteps and a rush to judgment in the initial investigation.

Stanhope focuses her attention on Emma Winter who had been Abigail's best friend in the months before her murder. Emma and her family had only recently moved to the village of Elvet and, as an outsider, she had been befriended by Abigail. She had loved going to the rich home of Emma and her widowed father, so very different from her own strict religious household. Emma was on her way to that house when she discovered Abigail's body in the ditch. Later, she and her younger brother, Christopher, had watched from Christopher's bedroom window as the police swarmed the scene of the crime and as Abigail's body was removed.

Now, Emma is married to James and has a baby son. She is the very picture of a contented young wife and mother, but in fact, she fantasizes about her neighbor, a potter, as he works in his shed at night.

All of the residents of this quiet little corner of East Yorkshire seem to have guilty secrets, but are they the kind of secrets that might have led to murder all those years ago? Is the murderer still in the area or is he - or she - long gone?

Then, Christopher Winter, who has come to visit, ends up dead. He's been murdered and his body left in a ditch by the driveway to Keith Mantel's home where it is discovered by his mother, Mary.  

Because the memories of the first murder, as well as the suicide of Jeanie Long, have recently been stirred up by Vera's re-investigation, it seems likely that this latest murder is connected, but how? Trust middle-aged, overweight, shambling, blotchy-skinned Vera Stanhope in her shapeless dresses and open-toed sandals to find the answer to that question. And what a joy it is to watch her do it and to witness the final denouement where she explains it all. All the red herrings are tossed back into the sea and we are left with the flounder that tried to hide itself in the sand.


My rating: 5 of 5 stars


  1. I tried to read the first one but found this was the rare case where the TV series was much better for me. Cheers

    1. I love the television series and it informs my reading of the books. When I read about Vera's actions I'm envisioning Brenda Blethyn and it makes me smile.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Don't Hesitate by Mary Oliver

Overboard by Sara Paretsky: A review

The Investigator by John Sandford: A review