“The Darkest Evening” is number nine in the Vera Stanhope series written by Ann Cleeves. Those who have not read previous books can jump right into this one without any problem. Characters are quickly introduced, and previous relationships fold easily into current scenarios.
The story unfolds during the Christmas season in rural, almost feudal, Northumberland. Vera Stanhope is driving cautiously through a blizzard that is extreme even for the northernmost part of England when she spots a car that has skidded off the highway. Upon investigation, she finds a toddler in the back seat clad in a red snow suit and matching small red boots. Searching for refuge for both herself and the child, she spots a big house decorated with hundreds of fairy lights, all white, all twinkling. It is a house she recognizes, the home of her estranged family, relatives she has not seen since she was a teenager. Thus begins a complex and surprising story about families, what holds them together and what rips them apart. The setting is straight out of an Agatha Christie novel with Christmas in the country manor house, but the case is not like that at all.
The narrative unfolds in two perspectives, from the mansion, Brockburn house, its guests and residents, and their conversations, as well from Vera Stanhope, her team, and their investigations. Stanhope quickly finds that this is a complicated case, one of the strangest cases she has ever worked. There are just too many people, too many connections, too many suspects, and too little real evidence. Everyone expects her to solve the mystery immediately because after all, “You must know, darling. It’s what you do for a living.”
Intricate, detailed descriptions immerse readers in the place and atmosphere. The language, vocabulary, and conversation have the gentle rural lilt of the Northumberland hills. The title is also important, easily overlooked, but an important marker in the story beyond just the opening event at the Brockburn estate.
“The Darkest Evening” has great characters, a compelling plot, and a classic setting, not to mention family trauma and a some crazy idea of revenge. I received a review copy of “The Darkest Evening” from Ann Cleeves, Minotaur Books, and Macmillan Publishing. I recommend the entire Vera Stanhope Series. Every book is captivating, professional, and enjoyable page after page.