Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Review of The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves (1999, Pan)

Three women working for an environmental consultant move into Baikie’s Cottage on a farm in the North Pennines to conduct a survey of the area for a potential new large quarry. On moving in, Rachel, the head of the team, discovers the hanging body of her friend Bella Furness, the farmer’s wife, who has unexpectedly committed suicide. Convinced that there must be more to Bella’s death than looking after her crippled husband, Rachel along with her mother, start to ask questions. Botanist Anne Preece has her own secrets, including an affair with the owner of the quarrying company. Grace Fulwell is a secretive young woman specialising in mammal habitats who keeps herself to herself. When another death occurs, Inspector Vera Stanhope takes charge. She knows the area well having stayed in Baikie’s Cottage as a child. Her approach to solving the murder is to leave the women in the cottage as bait and encourage Rachel and her mother to keep investigating – creating a crow trap – hoping to lure the killer into the open. But it’s a dangerous strategy, especially since she’s unsure of the killer’s identity from the handful of likely suspects who are all linked to the quarry in one way or another.

The Crow Trap is the first book in the Vera Stanhope series (and the third episode of series one of the television series Vera) set in the North East England. In this outing, Vera investigates a death seemingly linked to a potential new quarry in a scenic part of the North Pennines. The first two fifths of the novel introduces the reader to the three women who move into Baikie’s Cottage to conduct an environmental survey of the area, along with the backstory of the farmer’s wife whom the women discover dead from suicide when they arrive. Only once a murder occurs does Vera enter the story. While she’s accompanied by her Sergeant, Joe Ashworth, the focus is very much on Vera, how she conducts the case, and her own backstory given her childhood links to the cottage. No other police officers feature to any real extent, with the tale concentrating on the lives of the three women, the key actors linked to the quarry development, and Vera’s slightly unconventional approach to solving the crime by setting a crow trap – using the women to try and lure the killer into the open. Cleeves creates a nice puzzle and keeps a number of viable suspects in the frame until the denouement, but what sets the book apart is the emphasis on character development and intersecting biographies. Much time is spent on fleshing out each of the four lead women plus the farmer’s wife and establishing their back stories and links to suspects. The result is an engaging, intimate tale, but also one that felt a little flabby and overly long at times. Regardless of the slow pace, the combination of three-dimensional characters and a well-constructed plot kept the pages turning.

No comments: