Hidden Depths
Ann Cleeves
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Buy *Hidden Depths: A Vera Stanhope Mystery* by Ann Cleevesonline

Hidden Depths: A Vera Stanhope Mystery
Ann Cleeves
Minotaur Books
384 pages
January 2018
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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In Hidden Depths, Cleeves' characters explore pockets of their past, including Vera Stanhope's latest round of suspects as they provide her information over the strangling of Luke Armstrong in the family's bathtub. Julie, Luke's mother, tells "the fat woman detective" about Luke's tantrums. Julie thinks the origin of her son's behavior originated from the death of his friend, Thomas Sharp. Some lads were messing about in the North Shields quayside. Thomas fell in, couldn't swim, and drowned. Luke jumped in and tried to save Thomas, but it was too late.

At once, Vera and her colleagues, Joe Ashworth and Holly Lawson, turn their thoughts to the matter at hand: the ritualistic crime scene. The way Luke has been lovingly laid out with perfumed oils and flowers almost implies respect. The scene makes Vera think of the sacrifice of a beautiful child filled with ceremony and reverence. Perhaps someone stood on the doorstep with a bunch of flowers. Did Luke let him in? Did he know them? What of the flowers placed where Thomas was killed? Luke's 14-year-old sister, Laura, was in the household throughou, but was fast asleep. As Vera begins to feel her way into the characters, she already has a sense of Luke. According to Joe Ashworth, the only lead is that Luke witnessed Thomas's death. It's almost as if the killer wanted to draw attention to himself and make a grand spectacle.

Cleeves constantly shifts her novel's point of view, taking us into Felicity Calvert's house at Fox Hill, which looks like "a big art-deco ship stranded quite out of place in the flat farmland." A homemaker and mother, Felicity is planning a birthday dinner for Peter, her botanist husband, to which his friends, fellow ornithological enthusiasts Gary, Clive, and Samuel, are invited. Peter has an irritating sense of self-entitlement, and Felicity wonders if her husband is really the great man she believed him to be when they married. Felicity wonders about Peter's connection to Lily Marsh, the coquettish student teacher. Her first meeting with Lily unsettled Felicity. She feels jealous of the young woman's youth, vitality and independence, as well as "the firm skin and flat stomach."

A second killing is committed, perhaps to cover up the first. Vera's first priority is to find a link between the victims, something that places them together or a person they have in common. Yet her mind keeps drifting back to the group of men sitting outside on the veranda of Peter and Felicity's "strange white house." It's not just the connection with the dead girl; they had a smugness which irritated her. Which of them got under her skin?--party animal Gary, secretive Clive, or nervous Samuel. Gary has already admitted he knows Julie, and that he also knows that her beloved Luke was killed.

From the common interest of birding to a secret boyfriend and a twisted revenge, Cleeves constantly masks the killer. From the flowers floating on water to Luke and Thomas, stealing from building sites and mucking around on the quayside while standing up for each other when the bullying first started, Vera is feverish and obsessive in her efforts to turn over details while chasing connections: "if I could write it down, she thought, perhaps I could let it go." Vera recalls Fox Hill's elegant living room with its sea breeze and its views of the lighthouse. It suddenly occurs to her that Peter's friends were all a little bit in love with Felicity: "it wasn't the birding which glued them together, it was the woman. The ideal housewife."

The first book to be televised by ITV back in 2011, Hidden Depths is made complex with a surplus of suspects and a crime fashioned around erroneous loyalty. Vera remains a fascinating protagonist, a defiant, lonely and hatted figure who forges her way through the rugged dusky moors of Northumberland, assisted by loyal Joe Ashworth. Most people would be daunted, but not Vera as she walks into another new day with another solvable murder on the horizon.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Michael Leonard, 2018

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