Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Harbour Street.
Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope’s latest case takes place in Newcastle, England--more specifically at One Harbour Street in Mardle, where a secret begun years before takes a tragic turn. Only days until Christmas, Vera’s favored Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth rides the Metro with his daughter, Jessie, when a major snowstorm literally shuts down the tracks. As the car empties, one passenger remains: an elegant older woman who appears to have fallen asleep. When Jessie attempts to wake the woman, she realizes the stranger is dead. It is the beginning of a murder case that takes Vera and Joe to Harbour Street in seaside Mardle, where the victim, Margaret Krukowski, has lived since her marriage years before.
The guest house at One Harbour Street is currently owned by Kate Dewar, a former professional singer, now widowed with two teenaged children. Margaret was residing there when Kate purchased the property, occupying the attic room and later helping Kate manage the business, a grandmotherly figure to Kate’s children. Margaret has lived quietly and frugally, still a beauty in spite of her age and dedicated to good works, especially a home for young women called
Mardle is less than an ideal location, though the guesthouse provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere to those who regularly stay there, a place with its own history and secrets. The locals are colorful and eccentric, as are the regular guests
who patronize Kate’s house. All of them are subject to Vera’s scrutiny as she sets her team on a variety of investigative tracks to unravel Margaret’s past. From a wealthy family, Margaret married against their wishes, later divorced and never returned, choosing instead to remain in her attic room in Mardle with its view of the sea.
The appeal of Cleeves’ Stanhope mystery series is the iconic figure of the Detective Inspector herself (made into a hit series, “Vera” on PBS, starring Brenda Blethin), a stocky woman with her own way of conducting an investigation, skillfully intruding into the lives of those concerned, testing theories and watching reactions. Her strong personality and the various reactions of her team add depth and texture to the tale, interviews and information gradually leading to the identification of the culprit. Cleeves uses place and weather to create the ambiance in her mysteries, a small village harboring secrets, an enigmatic woman murdered on the Metro before the holiday in a snowstorm.
When that death is followed by yet another, Vera determines there will be “no more killings”, a mantra that drives her to learn about Margaret’s past and arrest the killer before he strikes again.
Both folksy and deadly serious, Harbour Street shows Vera Stanhope at her most determined, a force to be reckoned with, the determined face of justice, surrounded by a loyal team who trust her instincts unquestionably. Two murders send the residents of Mardle into turmoil, lives profoundly changed as secrets are revealed, a brief respite from grief on Christmas, the village wrapped in a blanket of snow.