The Seagull by Ann Cleeves: A review

After plowing through several consecutive books with heavy themes, I decided it was time for something a bit lighter. I settled on a tale about a triple murder as told by Ann Cleeves.

This is the eighth and latest book in the D.I. Vera Stanhope series and it is a very good one. And, of course, the tale isn't primarily about three murders; it's about Vera and her A-team of Joe, Holly, and Charlie, and how they work together to solve puzzles.

This is a particularly complicated puzzle because two of the aforementioned murders had occurred back in the 80s, the remains only recently discovered. They were discovered because Vera was selected for a public relations stint. 

She was assigned by her boss to make a presentation to convicts at a local prison about how crime affects the victims. She went, grudgingly, to give her spiel and in the audience was a former copper named John Brace. John Brace was a bent copper who had finally received his comeuppance in relation to a scheme in which a local gamekeeper was killed. John Brace was also a member of a Gang of Four who used to go tramping around the countryside stealing eggs from birds' nests for sale and sometimes trapping raptors to sell. All highly illegal, of course. The other three members of the gang were Robbie Marshall, someone known only as "the Prof," and Hector Stanhope, Vera's reprobate of a father.

Brace immediately recognizes who Vera is and devises a plan for getting her to look in on his daughter and her children, whom Brace is worried about, in exchange for information about the whereabouts of a body. It seems that Robbie Marshall has been missing for years and the police have never found a trace of him. But Robbie, as Brace knows, is dead because he hid the body back in the 80s when he was still with the police.

Vera meets with Brace and they make the deal. She is to check on the daughter, Patty, who was the product of his affair with a junkie who was the "love of his life," a woman named Mary-Frances Escuola, who, coincidentally, had disappeared around the same time as Marshall. The child had been given up for adoption and had grown up to marry a loser named Gary Keane, who has now abandoned her and their three children. After Vera meets her and reports back, Brace will tell her where the body is buried.

Vera finds Patty to be clinically depressed and sinking fast and her hitherto unsuspected maternal instincts take over. She befriends Patty and her kids and reports back to Brace who keeps his end of the bargain by telling her that Robbie Marshall is buried in a culvert, the location of which he gives. When the search team goes to look, sure enough, they find the bones of Robbie Marshall, but there is also a second set of bones, apparently female. Could it be Mary-Frances Escuola? Did Brace kill them both?   

Vera and her team get to work trying to find the answer to those and other questions about what happened all those years ago, and then, in the middle of their investigation, Gary Keane is murdered. Surely that can't be a coincidence.

Watching Vera and her team work is such a pleasure. We are privy to their thoughts as they go about the investigation, which, in the case of her team members all seem to focus on "What would Vera think about how I'm interviewing this person, or how I'm scrutinizing the evidence?" They are all eager to find some nugget to bring to her that will help to break the case open.

I do find these four people so engaging to read about. Cleeves has given them backstories and personalities that make them real to the reader. Moreover, her plotting, while complicated, is impeccable and always plays fair with the reader. This was just the kind of page-turning read that I needed at this time.

In the end, of course, Vera figures it all out on a dark and stormy night. And then her house ("Hector's house," as she always thinks of it) burns. We'll have to wait until the next book, due out in September, to learn how Vera copes.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars    

Comments

  1. This sounds like a perfect novel to just escape the world of today and settle in for a good time!

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  2. This sounds like an interesting series. Finding old murders can lead to an intriguing story.

    It is good to hear that this book is good. Sometimes when a series gets up to eight or so books, quality will start to drop.

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    1. It is an interesting series. I've read all eight books now and have enjoyed every one.

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  3. The book is new to me. Thanks for the review.

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    1. If you like quirky characters and a well-designed plot, you might enjoy this series.

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  4. Dorothy, this is one author I've wanted to try but she has so many books I wouldn't know where to begin.

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    1. She has several series going but this is the only one I have read so far. If you decide to read it, you would need to start at the beginning with The Crow Trap.

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  5. I am reading my first Vera novel ("The Darkest Evening") and I love it so far. I have watched the series religiously but have never read any of her books until now.

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    1. I've watched the series, too, and I love Brenda Blethyn in the Vera role. When I read one of the books now, I always see Brenda as Vera.

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  6. My favorite part of mysteries is watching how the investigation goes, especially when the author seems to include me, the reader, in the investigation. It sounds like this series does that.

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    1. That's an apt observation. Since we are able to share the thoughts of the investigators and sometimes of the criminals or victims, it makes the reader a part of the process.

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  7. Whenever I see this author's name I think of Anne of Cleaves. My Tudor-brain can't help it! But, I also think this might a series I enjoy, and will look for it at a future point.

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    1. Having only recently finished Hilary Mantel's final volume in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy which featured Anne of Cleaves, I can quite understand! Ann Cleeves is a very good writer and I think you might enjoy this series.

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