Harbour Street is the latest book written by Ann Cleeves and featuring DI Vera Stanhope. It's just been published, and one of my Christmas treats was to be given the opportunity to read a review copy. I've been a fan of Vera since her first appearance in The Crow Trap. In fact, I'd like to think that I was ahead of the crowd in recognising her tremendous potential as a character. Suffice to say that, since her debut, she's developed into one of the most interesting detectives in modern British crime fiction, and her appeal has been enhanced by the successful television series with Vera played by that fine actor Brenda Blethyn. I gather that a television adaptation of this book will reach our screens before too long.
The story is set in the run-up to Christmas, and gains from the seasonal backdrop. Newcastle is busy and Vera's sidekick, Joe Ashworth, and his daughter Jessie take a trip on the Metro after a choral performance in the Cathedral. Jessie screams when she discovers the body of an elderly woman, who proves to be Margaret Krukowski. Train-related crime stories have been popular for rather more than a century. But this is a very different kind of mystery from the cases of the railway detectives created by such diverse writers as Victor L. Whitechurch, Andrew Martin and Edward Marston, and certainly from Murder on the Orient Express.
Margaret seems to have been a thoroughly decent woman, although it appears that there is some mystery about her past, and also about her long-ago marriage. Why would anyone want to kill such a pleasant person? This is the sort of question that appeals to me as a writer, as well as a reader. I did not, however, correctly identify the culprit. Although this is a very different book from The Glass Room, which offered a sort of homage to the Golden Age (and which Ann turned into an excellent murder mystery event that I've seen a couple of times), there are a number of ingredients that will please fans of traditional detective fiction, including questions posed by the dead woman's will, and a puzzle hidden in the past
Ann Cleeves is a friend of mine,and it is only natural for me to enjoy her books. But I am confident that her many fans will like this one. It's a neatly crafted piece of work, and a reminder that the great success that Ann has enjoyed in recent years, both with these books and the Shetland novels starring another likeable cop, Jimmy Perez, is well deserved.