The Darkest Evening: A Vera Stanhope Novel (Vera Stanhope (9))

Image of The Darkest Evening: A Vera Stanhope Novel (Vera Stanhope, 9)
Release Date: 
September 8, 2020
Minotaur Books
Reviewed by: 

“Several doors are opened in The Darkest Evening to launch more stories. Devoted fans will keep looking forward to them, while new fans made through this volume will join the crowd.”

For many crime-fiction readers, it’s a welcome relief when a new Vera Stanhope novel comes out. They don’t have to worry about quality: The series is stone reliable in delivering a classic yet contemporary British police procedural, rich with character and atmosphere. Readers know they’ll get an intelligent, well-written mystery; in this volume, a challenging whodunit.

The Darkest Evening gives Detective Inspector Vera not only a tricky case to solve, but also gives readers a deeper view into her backstory. Vera lands at her ancestral home in northern England during a blizzard, because on her way home to her personal dwelling after work she takes a wrong turn in bad visibility and comes across a car off the road with the door wide open. No driver or even tracks to be found—but an infant abandoned inside the vehicle.

Vera scoops up the child, leaves her card, and heads for the nearest habitation. It happens to be the estate where her now-dead father grew up. She’s barely arrived when the infant’s mother is found dead in the snow practically at the door of the mansion. That ghoulish discovery interrupts a family Christmas party, into which Vera, as an (albeit estranged) relative, has a right to enter beyond her duty as a police officer.

Thus begins a dig into the circumstances and relationships leading up to the mother’s death. Which is followed soon by another murder, linked to the first victim.

The title relates to the season-setting of the story. Winter solstice time in northern England is dark indeed, owing to its latitude. That darkness pervades the story as a theme as Vera and her team uncover layer after layer that tie her own history to a dubious, possibly dangerous, family. She becomes torn between her professional obligations, an inbred sense of loyalty, and unfamiliar emotions upon learning that the orphaned infant is connected to her by blood.

Half the mystery is discovering who fathered the child. In the absence of parents for the little boy, Vera considers for the first time having a child in her life.

From series start, she has been established as an eccentric, unattractive, brainy woman married to her career, raised in unusual circumstances by her black-sheep father. Partnership and children have never been on her agenda. Neither has she expected to have anything to do with her extended clan. Being thrust among them in a murder investigation rocks her foundations and self-image.

Meanwhile, there’s a killer to catch.

Suspects abound, but Vera and her team don’t have to travel far to find them. The case revolves around the estate and its crumbling gentry, the families who depend on the estate, and the village attached to it. A skein of secrets weaves all of them together, giving almost everyone a motive.

While untangling the threads interlinking all these families, Vera must also deal with issues among her staff. Her right-hand man, Joe, a devoted husband and father, is under pressure from his wife about the conflicting responsibilities between job and home. Holly, a prickly, insecure—but brilliant—detective, struggles with her competitive spirit and chronic communication failures with Vera.

In some ways Vera and Holly are flip sides of the same coin, similar at the core but otherwise opposite. Getting her team to work together effectively on a complex case loaded with personal conflicts challenges all of Vera’s experience and skills.

This volume stands alone better than other volumes in the series owing to the backstory quotient. Readers entering Vera’s world for the first time in book nine will not be left adrift, which lets them follow the case and learn the characters without confusion, or feeling left out.

The series was recognized early as offering appeal to a broader audience, and parlayed into a successful British TV show. The written episodes, however, allow greater exploration and expansion, and the author’s skill keeps it developing.

Several doors are opened in The Darkest Evening to launch more stories. Devoted fans will keep looking forward to them, while new fans made through this volume will join the crowd.