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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

‘Harbour Street’ by Ann Cleeves

Published by Macmillan,
16 January 2014.
ISBN: 978-0230760189

It is just before Christmas and the metro from Newcastle is crowded with revellers and shoppers. Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth and his daughter, Jessie, are travelling home when snow stops the train short of its final destination. Jessie sees an old lady who appears to be asleep but when she tried to rouse her she discovers that she is dead. Margaret Krukowski has been stabbed and DI Vera Stanhope and her team mount an investigation.

Margaret was seventy and has lived most of her adult life in Harbour Street, in Mardle, lodging with Kate Dewar, once a singing star and now a struggling landlady and single-parent to two teenage children. Harbour Street is a run-down, working class place but Margaret was brought up in a far more affluent and respectable area, until her rebellious marriage to a Polish seaman caused a breach with her parents. Even at seventy, Margaret had been an elegant, refined woman and a woman of many contradictions. Above all, she was a woman who had closely-guarded secrets. A firm supporter of the local church, she had a special interest in a hostel for vulnerable women.

Vera Stanhope has her own childhood memories of Harbour Street. As a girl she had accompanied her father, Hector, here to embark on various illegal expeditions to steal birds' eggs. Years after his death, Hector still casts a dark shadow over Vera.

As Vera, Joe and the team try to discover the reason for Margaret's death, they realise that the truth lies in the secrets of this beautiful, enigmatic woman's life. But soon another person is killed, tension mounts and the danger moves menacingly closer to home.

The book is well-paced and beautifully characterised and the tension mounts alongside the shallow glitter of the pre-Christmas festivities. Vera's relationship with her team is well developed as she improves her people management skills, even tolerating one of her young Detective Constable's attempts to organise a Secret Santa. Vera's ironic internal dialogue helps to make her character likeable and emphasises the shrewdness and intelligence concealed beneath her down-to-earth, homely manner.

Harbour Street is the sixth book in the Vera Stanhope series. It is a series that grows stronger all the time. I recommend this book.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Ann Cleeves worked as a probation officer, bird observatory cook and auxiliary coastguard before she started writing. She is a member of 'Murder Squad', working with other northern writers to promote crime fiction. In 2006 Ann was awarded the Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Crime Novel, for Raven Black.  Her Vera Stanhope series is now a major ITV production stariing Brenda Blethyn as Vera Stanhope.
Ann lives in North Tyneside.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

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