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  • Mandy McHugh

The Darkest Evening, Ann Cleeves: A Review

I read a Vera Stanhope novel a few years back and have been a fan of Ann Cleeves since. I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy of The Darkest Evening, the latest in the DCI Vera Stanhope series.

On a blistery cold winter night, Vera misses her turn and stumbles across a baby abandoned in a car. Calling it in, she interrupts a dinner party at a distant relative's house only for one of the guests to discover a dead body in the snow. The woman, Lorna, has been murdered, and together with her team, Vera must find out what happened to her while untangling decades-old secrets and lies at every turn. Reading The Darkest Evening was a little like slipping into my coziest college sweatshirt--and not just because I spent two semesters immersed in Brit Lit seminars. This narrative was a good old-fashioned murder mystery; I even got a kick out of the meta moment when Vera realizes she could be in an Agatha Christie book, complete with vicar and country hillside motif. The cast is aloof and mysterious with well-developed motives and layers of mystery that propel the plot forward. Vera is so fun, an almost-retired detective battling her own body, insecurities, and others' judgments about her. She's smart, deductive, and witty, and I loved her voice most. Holly and Joe prove to be a useful, intelligent team, and the three of them together weave a complex, entertaining story spanning family histories, grudges, and classism. Additionally, Cleeves highlights important issues of mental health, diving into Lorna's history with eating disorders and the psychology and treatment behind them. I can't remember the last time I read a thriller where anorexia played in the forefront as a serious medical condition, rather than an off-hand comment mentioned by a side character. As a lifelong English major, I love when literary references show up in popular literature. Stopping by Woods is a timeless Frost poem, one I used to teach every year, and the allusion was an extra dip of enjoyment. I will say that if you're used to reading mysteries and thrillers set in America, it might take you a minute to adjust to the British lingo. Bairn, pet, and A levels threw me for the first few pages, but once you find your rhythm, the characters' voices will jump off the page. Some of the dialogue and diction were a bit repetitive, (repeatedly calling the victim a poor girl, referring to the case details, etc) but overall, The Darkest Evening is a quirky, quick read with well-developed characters and a fresh take on a classic whodunit. Big thanks to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.

 

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