Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review: 'Harbour Street' by Ann Cleeves

“Harbour Street,” by Ann Cleeves, is set in Mardle, a coastal town outside Newcastle. It is December, and as the holiday season approaches, the weather is cold and snowy; it seems as if everyone is busy preparing for the festivities. One notable exception is Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope of the Northumbria police, who lives by herself in her late father’s house, and has no family and few friends. She is almost relieved when a murder investigation keeps her from brooding about her lonely existence. Her latest inquiry involves the stabbing death of seventy-year-old Margaret Krukowski in a crowded Metro. DI Stanhope is an able leader who is intelligent, persistent, and knows how to motivate her subordinates to go the extra mile.

The author creates a colorful portrait of Krukowski’s acquaintances and of the rundown neighborhood where she lived. Vera, her protégé, DS Joe Ashworth (whose wife wishes he were home with her more often), the ambitious DC Holly Clarke, and Charlie Laidler spend many hours conducting interviews and digging into Margaret’s past. They want to find out who had the motive, means, and opportunity to take the life of this elegant and altruistic woman who attended church regularly and was active in a variety of good causes. When the killer strikes again, Vera redoubles her efforts to apprehend the perpetrator.

The author has created distinctive characters, a complex plot, and a whodunit that will mystify readers. Vera and her team are annoyed and frustrated when witnesses lie and/or withhold information; the officers waste valuable time separating fact from fiction. As is so often the case, long-buried secrets surface to complicate matters considerably. This lengthy book is encumbered by an abundance of red herrings and some sluggishly-paced passages. Overall, however, this intriguing and darkly humorous mystery should appeal to fans of atmospheric British police procedurals.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right