At an isolated cottage, three women meet to carry out an environmental survey. On her arrival, the first of the three makes a gruesome discovery. Amid the initial investigation of what looks like suicide, the women begin their work, but all three are hiding secrets and when another death occurs, Inspector Vera Stanhope turns up to dig into the lives and backgrounds of everyone concerned.
This is the first book in the Vera Stanhope series and unusually for Ann Cleeves, it’s a bit of a long haul. As the stories of each character are revealed we gradually see a picture of secrets and deception that widens to include the whole community. Though the inspector doesn’t show her face until a good way through the book, once she’s there, she makes her presence felt.
Set in the North Pennines, the author’s talent for description really comes into its own, and her portrayal of the landscape is a delight – vibrant and colourful, conjuring the area around Black Law into a character in itself, as much a part of the story as the human element. Although this is a fairly hefty book, it’s a thoroughly absorbing and thrilling read that kept me on edge all the way through.