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Move over Matthew, you’re no match for Vera

It was one of those days of happy coincidences.  Or of the stars aligning.

Maybe even the occasion of one door closing and another opening.

Whatever.

It all happened on the day when I at last reached the end of detective Matthew Venn’s long the slog through The Raging Storm.

Sighs of relief all round.

To be quickly replaced by the welcome news that its author, the estimable Ann Cleeves, is returning to England’s rough hewn north-east as the setting for her next book, due out in late August.

Which means the lead character will once again be the irrascible but endearing Vera Stanhope.

The intriguingly titled The Dark Wives, will see Vera and her team  confronted with a mysterious mix of folklore and fact as they unravel the goings-on in a care home for troubled teens.

No doubt the location will play as important a role as the lead characters.

No matter where she sets her stories, Cleeves can be counted on to bring the landscape well to the fore. Be it Northumbria’s coast and moors, the often bleak and always wind-blown  Shetlands or the rocky coast and tidal estuaries of North Devon.

And her featured detectives merge into the landscape – Jimmy Perez in the Shetlands, Vera in the north-east and, most recently, Matthew Venn on the Devon coast.

Vera and Perez are credible, as characters and as part of the landscape. But Martin Venn has proved to be a pallid performer, ill-suited to his locale and a wishy-washy solver of crimes.

All credit to Cleeves for attempting to widen the horizons of her readers and her lead dctetective. But Venn and his lacklustre manner simply didn’t gell for this reader. A gloomy, sullen soul with whom it was difficult to empathise.

Throughout the Devon series everything has been clouded by the dark presence of the introverted Matthew and his mostly joyless life. This creates a hard plod for readers and also, or so it felt, for the author. Such a struggle for all concerned.

There was a continual sense of a heavy hand  working overtime to make the landscape come alive; and an even greater battle  being waged to breathe some life into storyline and characters. Perhaps the author hasn’t been as involved and immersed in north Devon as she has been with Northumbria and the Shetlands. And it shows.

Nor does she seem comfortable with Martin Venn having a husband in the form of the possessive Johnathan. It’s a relationship that at times comes across as strained as the writing that describes it. The course of true love rarely runs smooth, as we are proverbally assured, and as this love match frequently bears witness.

The narrative is woven around  the discovery of a prodigal local sailing legend. His body is found by the lifeboat during a search in the midst of  ‘the raging storm’ of the title.

The closed-in community reveals cracks, misplaced loyalties and double-dealing once Venn and his team start probing.  Lies and half-truths are added to the mix along with a measure or two of myths and seafarers’ tales.

More similar mysterious deaths follow. The incessant wind and rain add to the gloom.

Cleeves lets drop a few red herrings and weaves a twisting tale.

But oh how I longed for her to return to her happy places back there in Northumbria and Shetland with Vera and Jimmy.

And it seems wishes do come true.

Roll on August.

 

 

 

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