The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves – Matthew Venn investigates a complex case among artists in a North Devon community

The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves

Detective Matthew Venn is a careful, thoughtful man. When he is called in to investigate the sudden death of a man in the informal rural home of a group of artists, he is a little thrown by the whole set up. His husband Jonathan would be far more at home amidst glassblowers and other craft workers, but he is not in the police and Matthew has Jen and Ross to help him officially. The carefully staged murder of a doctor is unexpected, especially when it seems that his daughter Eve was meant to discover the killing with a piece of her handblown glass as the weapon. As the investigation proceeds Matthew must struggle to keep his own feelings in check in the face of irregular lifestyles, lies and deceptions before another person dies, and people’s real motives are revealed.

This is a novel that captures the reader’s interest immediately and maintains it throughout. The plot is satisfyingly complex and winding, the setting (with fictional additions) is beautifully drawn, and the characters are memorable in their depth. Ranging from Jen whose realism and compassion power her work in dealing with the people and the complexities of the communities involved to the financial genius Francis Ley, whose loneliness has created the establishment of the big house, farm and workshops at Westacombe in North Devon, the characters have real depth. Matthew’s background of a strict religious community and his remaining propensity for feeling guilt is in sharp contrast with Jonathan’s intuitive and creative ability with people, a contrast which leads to both positive and negative outcomes for their relationship when a case comes dangerously close to home. I was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review this brilliantly written and immersive book, where mystery, risk and danger combine in an innocent seeming setting.

Jen first encounters the victim in a social setting when she is not at her most perceptive. Dr. Nigel Yeo was a skilled doctor working in a local hospital who had begun working with a Patients support group in order to have more time with his wife. Following her death, he had been working with his daughter Eve in her growing glass making studio. When he approached Jen at a party, he seemed to be trying to ask her to help with a case which he had become involved in. As the investigation into who could have possibly had a motive to murder a seemingly well-loved man proceeds, other people and situations become entangled. Matthew is aware that he is in danger of letting his own difficulties get in the way of a solution, and Jen and Ross must think laterally to come up with a complete picture of why a particular artist’s work is becoming a weapon.

This is a murder mystery story which regards the victims and potential witnesses as real people who are struggling to understand what is happening in a relatively small community. The pace is well judged to allow space for thought but never drags. There is an excellent understanding of the pressures of contemporary policing; but this novel goes far beyond being a police procedural. This book is the second in a series but definitely works as a standalone, which is how I read it. This is a vibrant and extremely readable novel which I greatly enjoyed. I recommend it to Cleeves’ fans and in complete confidence that it will make many new ones!

Crow Trap – so what did happen?

Crow Trap – Ann Cleeves.

Just a brief post about Crow Trap. Well, I had read the book carefully – but found that any resemblance between that and the tv version was by way of overlapping. Only one woman on the project rather than three, murder rather than suicide, etc. And they left out my favourite character! Having said that, the cast of characters in the book is long and the plot/s very complicated, so maybe this trimming was a good thing; or at least a virtue out of necessity.

Overall, it was a good programme, the setting was good, and the main police characters improving every week. Though why does Vera always have to go steaming to the rescue virtually single handed? It is beautifully acted, though.

Husband very pleased to be able to identify the church at the end. On even gives you a post and some photos!

The Crow Trap-what will happen on tv?

I’ve mentioned Ann Cleeves’ The Crow Trap before in this blog; it is the first one in the Vera Stanhope series set in the North east of England. A dramatized version is due to be shown on ITV this Sunday in the series Vera. I’m not sure why they are showing them in this order, but it so far has been an interesting series, if a little dark. Husband has been calling out suggestions for the locations it has been set in, having objects thrown at him as a result…

The Radio Times suggests that the tv film tells a different version of this story than in the novel. Certainly the plot line that I’ve read doesn’t seem true to the book, but we will see.

I’m usually quite keen on tv adaptations because they usually lead to more people (if only me!) reading the book. Obviously there are going to be differences. South Riding 

was a good example of a good tv series based on a really big, great book. I probably would not have read it if it had not been shown on tv, but found that the book was far, far better in terms of content and characterization. The obvious problem was the short series which could not hope to capture more than the main themes of the book. I’m not sure that will be the case on Sunday, although it is a complex plot.

The book, The Crow Trap, is an interesting, complex read. It is written from different viewpoints, which while enabling a really clear view of the events of this multiple murder mystery, is also a little disorientating. I have seen it done before, but each section has been in a very different style, where this sits solidly in the third person.It also leads to a certain amount of repetition, which means that it is an easier read than some modern mystery novels where missing one clue is crucial. I thought that the descriptions of the landscape were effective, even speaking as a reader who has not been northern enough for long enough to recognise the area.The characterization is good, each character being given a distinct voice and personality. Most of the significant characters are female, which is a interesting situation for a novel, and the characters are well differentiated. It is a complex plot, with red herrings and elements swirling round.

It is not a comfortable book, or a particularly easy read, but one that is difficult to put down because it is so well written. I think that it could do with losing a few pages because it does tend to repeat the facts, and I think (though not a great reader of modern murder novels) that there are a few too many characters. My favourite has to be Edie, a hippy single mother, whose grown up daughter frequently cringes with embarrassment at her over enthusiasm for talking things through and being accepting of whatever anyone gets up to (within reason). I would recommend this book as a not too brutal murder mystery, with interesting themes, good characters and a well worked through plot. Husband has read the first Shetland series book, and seemed to enjoy it. I’m looking forward to reading more Cleeves!

Five Books and a book Group

Sounds like a film title?! Or just a book bloggers exercise to look at five books briefly, with a view to longer posts to come. is a good read for avid readers everywhere, and Simon who writes it suggests the following headings.

1. The book I’m currently reading…A Man of Parts by David Lodge

I have mentioned before how much I’m enjoying this book. It’s set in an intriguing period and about a very interesting author. His relationships and writing are fascinating and Lodge’s writing style draws the reader in. I get the impression that I would not like Wells the person, but who knows where this novel will go.

2.The Book that I’ve just finished… Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

This  book definitely deserves a full post, as does the rather good tv series Vera now showing on ITV. This is the first in the series, despite the running order on tv. It’s a good modern murder mystery, basically.

3. The next book I want to read…Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

One of a number of Molly Keane books I’ve picked up recently. I think that it deals with the interwar period which is so fascinating. It seems to be family stories, but not tragic saga types. We’ll soon see.

4. The book I bought most recently… Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson

I must admit that I picked this up at Barter Books ( more about that another day) because I like The Bloomsbury Group set. This time an Edwardian novel, I am promised wit and love affairs. An interesting choice for £1.80!

5. The most recent book that I have been given…Women in the Second World War by Colette Drifte

This is a signed hardback by a local author, bought for me by Husband in Cogito Books in Hexham, a very efficient independent bookshop currently very involved in  the Hexham book festival. He knows that this is one of my current obsessions.  Here’s hoping I haven’t  used up all my credit as I want the new trio of books from Persephone when he goes to London soon…

And the Book Group? Well, one is happening on Wednesday night and we are looking at Alan Bennett’s A Life Like other People’s. Not sure about this as a cheerful read, but we’ll see what everyone else thought.

Safely back from murder writer encounter!

You may remember from my last blog that I was going to hear Ann Cleeves speak about her novels, and indeed her new tv series Vera to begin on ITV shortly.  Well, there were 50+ of us all eager to hear her, and she was excellent. I’m very glad that I had read some of The Crow Trap to get an idea of her style. I found it very involving, and to my surprise I am keen to read on. I’m not usually a great reader of modern crime, but her books seem quite approachable, as indeed she is in person. She read a little from Hidden Depths, which sounded good, even if a drowned son would not be my first choice of subject matter.

She also gave us many insights into her process of writing. That she starts a book with a scene, as dramatic as possible (like the Swedish writer of Wallander) and doesn’t actually know what will happen next, even who the murderer is, and works it out as she goes along like the reader must. She wanted to create a woman detective who was middle aged and not attractive or superhuman, and Vera Stanhope  is easily the most realistic I have ever heard about.  Ann likes to write about the Shetland islands, and I have bought the first of her quartet set there. She revealed that she is set to write more in this series, and would like the divine David (Tennant) to play the hero.

My neighbour did not agree! Raven Black was eventually agreed to be the first in the series.

The tv series appears to have come about because the Producer Elaine Collins found a copy of The Crow Trap in an Oxfam shop. We gained many insights about the production from novel to screen, and I was impressed when she told us that many local actors and crew were locally recruited. So the answer is  when it comes on tv in the Spring, watch and be impressed!

My new prized possession is a signed first edition of the new book, due to be officially launched next week.

Silent Voices (Vera Stanhope 4)

Silent Voices is the new Vera Stanhope novel. So the plan is now finish The Crow Trap, the two intervening novels, and then this. Son One also bought me the new Val McDermid paperback Trick of the Dark.


Not sure what I’ll make of it, but apparently she is also local and therefore may make an appearance at something like the Hexham Book Festival. This book is about an Oxford college, so we will see…

A Moving Toyshop – and a Murder Writer Live!

Excitement builds hereabouts for the local library Ann Cleeves evening. I managed to get one of the very last tickets; despite receiving plenty of prior notice Husband finally decided that I was not going to be enjoying the delights of Manchester or Sheffield so I scooted over there to get ticket 48 of 50!

I must confess that I’m not really well up on Ann Cleeves’ writing. I have to be feeling strong to cope with modern day crime writing; Agatha, Margary, Susanna (Gregory) and of course CJ Samson can be brutal, sad or a bit depressing but at least they have the advantage of historical distance. When I have a go at writing murder mysteries, I usually take the easy route of setting them in the past, which at least means that I don’t need exhaustive knowledge of CSI! I have shown willing though by buying The Crow Trap.

so that I will not be completely taken by surprise! Apparently it’s the first in the Vera Stanhope series, soon to be televised. Friend HR tells me that she attended an evening with Ann Cleeves which involved actually setting up a mystery! Will  I become addicted? Watch this space!

Today’s book that I have actually read is The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispen.

My copy is modern reprint of this old edition, but it’s not the Crime element which is so interesting about this book. The hero is Gervase Fen, a Professor of English at Oxford. I don’t know the city well, beyond a couple of competitive visits in the early eighties, but this book is full of hair raising  trips in a sports car, moving shops, a dastardly and complex plot that I enjoyed greatly. It is a very funny book, with poetry being quoted, tiddly professors, woman – charming undergraduates, confused moments locked in cupboards etc. It does differ from most of the female writers of the 40s and 50s which I normally read in that the men take the lead and women can be charmed, murdered and generally a bit confused. But it is very funny. Not sure about the plot; it is outrageously complex, but that is probably part of this book’s undeniable charm. It is definitely a period piece, dated and a little sexist, but clever, funny and charming. Research suggests that there are others in this series; not doubt a great antidote to more serious minded murder mysteries (or you could try The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy by James Anderson, but that’s another post…)