According to Amazon, the synopsis for this novel reads as follows
At the isolated Baikie’s Cottage on the North Pennines, three very different women come together. Three women who each know the meaning of betrayal…For team leader Rachael the project is the perfect opportunity to rebuild her confidence after a double-betrayal by her lover and boss, Peter Kemp. Botanist Anne, on the other hand, sees it as a chance to indulge in a little deception of her own. And then there is Grace, a strange, uncommunicative young woman with plenty of her own secrets to hide…When Rachael arrives at the cottage, however, she is horrified to discover the body of her friend Bella Furness. Bella, it appears, has committed suicide – a verdict Rachael finds impossible to accept. Only when the next death occurs does a fourth woman enter the picture – the unconventional Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope…
This was the first Ann Cleeves novel that I have read and I was definitely intrigued. To begin with the author does not introduce us to the main protagonist of the series, Vera Stanhope till almost 30 % of the novel is finished. She uses the time to share with us her love of the North Pennines where this story takes place, as well as the lives of the people around whom the mystery is created. Being an avid reader of British literature, I was surprised by the North Pennines; a geographical area that I have not come across before. The descriptions of the reserve where the three girls are carrying out their environmental survey comes across as beautiful and haunting country. In fact, I had to go and check to be sure that this wasn’t some place in North America. The setting of the tale in itself is unique and captivating even though there are no prolonged descriptions of the same.
And then we are introduced to a most unlikely detective; Vera Stanhope. Middle aged, jaded, fat, anti – social, suffering from eczema and with an intuition about solving crimes. Her deceased father used to collect bird eggs and would go out late at night to steal them from the protected reserve, taking Vera as the look-out when she was a child. A seemingly silly sounding anecdote and yet was probably the reason for her choosing to become a police officer.
Ann Cleeves pays attention to the psycology behind her characters and some may find it a tad bit slow. Yet, the slow and careful narration adds a wistful, womanly touch to the whole story even though the female detective seems to lack all delicate female sensibilities. The three women who form the core group are as different from each other as chalk and cheese. Rachel, who is insecure and prone to falling for the wrong guys and then incapable of standing up for herself does find her a solid- looking love interest by the end of the book. Anne, is actually the strongest woman of the bunch, taking instant decisions and making lemonade of the lemons life has given her. Grace was just disturbed. The three women live together in close confines for a time but never seem to connect with each other; which is easily possible when the personalities of each one are so different to each other.
The author doesn’t tie – up affairs neatly in the end, of all the characters left over after the killings and the murderer are subtracted from the whole. One might question and speculate about the lives of those involved and leaving that much of a question is definitely acceptable. An enjoyable, psychological read.