The books by Ann Cleeves featuring the Northumberland detective Vera Stanhope are a favourite of mine, with their evocative settings and the marvellously ‘lardy’ female protagonist. I’ve recently started to read her Shetland series which I am enjoying but the temptation of a new Vera book was impossible to resist.
The Glass Room features a group of aspiring and established writers who are gathered at ‘The Writer’s House’ a country retreat offering residential courses. Vera has been asked by Jack, her hippie neighbour to find his missing girlfriend Joanna, and Vera soon tracks her down to the retreat. However, when Vera arrives at the house she finds a dead body in the glass room and Joanna identified as the prime suspect. To investigate the killing, Vera begins to unpick the backgrounds of both the writers and students, in addition to the strange mother and son who run the retreat. Soon hidden pasts are revealed and former relationships emerge.
This is the first book featuring Vera Stanhope that I’ve read since the television series aired. I thought Brenda Blethyn was excellent as Vera although she was different to how I had envisaged the character. It was interesting that as I read The Glass Room, I could hear the voice of Bethyn as Vera. I’m not sure if this is just me or whether the actor’s interpretation of the character has influenced Cleeves writing.
I thought setting the book on a writers’ retreat was a good plot device. Buried amongst the murder investigation were some interesting details about how books are plotted and then written, and also about the publishing industry. Most of this was done through the character of Nina, a writer with a small local publisher who is inspired to write a crime story in the midst of the mayhem. It was nice to hear Nina’s voice throughout the book and she provided a contrast to the more strident tones of Vera.
The setting reminded me slightly of The Crow Trap and I enjoyed reading a book with a fairly narrow list of suspects where the crime is first discovered, then investigated and finally explained in a tightly plotted way. In this sense it reminded me of some of the Agatha Christie plots, particularly those featuring Hercule Poirot.
As usual I enjoyed the characterisation and it was nice to see the long suffering sidekick of Vera, Joe Ashworth get a meatier role. It was, as I would expect from Ann Cleeves, an enjoyable read.