The Crow Trap (Vera Stanhope 1) by Ann Cleeves

Is there an editor in the house?

🙂 🙂 🙂

The Crow TrapThree women are staying at Baikie’s Cottage to carry out an environmental impact study on land which is earmarked to be turned into a quarry. Rachael is the leader of the team, and knows the area well – her friend Bella lives on the neighbouring farm. She knows Bella loves her life in this harsh landscape so when she arrives only to find Bella dead, hanged in the barn, she finds it hard to accept the official verdict of suicide. The other two women on the team are strangers to Rachael and to each other. Anne is an extrovert, and has had a string of affairs, most recently with the man who wants to turn the land into a quarry. Grace is the complete opposite – introverted, quiet, clearly unhappy. When a body is found on the land, it will be up to Inspector Vera Stanhope and her right-hand man Joe Ashworth to work out motives and opportunity, and to connect the dots between the murder and Bella’s suicide…

Sometimes I feel like a stuck record, but at well over 500 pages this novel is ridiculously over-long – repetitive and padded to the point where I several times considered abandoning it. The underlying plot is good and Vera is an interesting, if unbelievable, character – another of these detectives one feels would have been quietly shuffled to a desk job long ago since she is incapable of following rules and doesn’t mind putting herself, her colleagues and even members of the public at risk in pursuit of her case. But hey-ho! That’s modern crime fiction for you, and plenty of people seem to like these damaged detectives. At least Vera is functional.

The book starts off well enough, telling of Rachael’s arrival at the cottage, her finding of Bella, and then of the next few days as the three women get to know each other a little. It’s already far too drawn out at this stage, but eventually the body is discovered and we can hope the police procedural element is about to begin. Only for those hopes to be dashed! Back we go to the very beginning, this time following Anne through those same few days, learning more about her life, and seeing things from her perspective. And then… you’ve guessed, haven’t you… we do it all again, this time in the company of Grace. It’s not that any of the three women’s stories are uninteresting in their own right, but to cover the same period again and again had me feeling as if I was in Groundhog Day.

Ann Cleeves
Ann Cleeves

Finally, about halfway through, this introductory stage is at last over, and Vera arrives on the scene. It picks up a bit after that, although there’s so much backstory about Vera’s life interspersed among the plot that the pace never gets out of second gear. Vera’s method is to set the women up to be bait in the hope the murderer will return, while sending these civilians off to ask questions of suspects and bring her back the information. Extremely odd method of policing, far more suited to the Golden Age of the amateur detective than the modern police procedural. However, it’s reasonably enjoyable, and well written.

Overall, I can’t say this one thrilled me much – a crime novel requires far more plot and less repetition to hold my interest for so long. However I see that the next book is considerably shorter (though still longer than a crime novel should be) so hopefully Cleeves reined in her desire to cover every detail three times. I’d consider reading more of them, but I fear Cleeves, with two less than enthusiastic reviews out of three from me so far, is perhaps never going to make it onto my must-read list. Given her huge popularity, I don’t expect that will bother her much!

People's Choice LogoBook 3 of 12

This was The People’s Choice for March. Thank you, People – I know you meant well… 😉

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45 thoughts on “The Crow Trap (Vera Stanhope 1) by Ann Cleeves

  1. Ooh, sorry to hear that this one didn’t sweep you away, FictionFan. If I’m being honest, I liked it better than you did, probably because I liked the setting and local culture. And I like it that Vera isn’t a nubile, beautiful young superhero… Still, I agree it’s long. I hope you’ll like the next one better if/when you get there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • As you know, I struggle with a lot of contemporary crime – the format just doesn’t work as well for me as the tighter, more mystery-focused crime fiction of ye olden times! I did find Vera interesting and well-drawn, but oh, how I wished she’d cut out about half of all the extraneous stuff! I still have another of her books on the TBR – a Shetland one, I think – so she’ll have another chance to grow on me… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 😬😬😬😬
    I don’t understand why some books are so long. What is the point of dragging a story out??? I don’t mind a long book if the story warrants the length. But when it seems obvious that the book should have been shorter, I have to wonder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I honestly don’t know. It was a real style thing in contemporary crime a few years ago but happily I’ve noticed recent books seem to be a bit shorter again, thank goodness. Maybe all the moaning reviewers have got their point across!

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    • Ha, that’s funny because I notice excessive length even more when I’m listening! I prefer crime novels to be shortish and focused on the crime rather than on the detective, but this type of book is so hugely popular I realise it’s my problem, not the book’s!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Her books are quite long, this is what put me off from trying one in the first place. Glad I’ve read your review, just makes me even more sure that it’s not something I would enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, there was a sort of trend of extremely long crime novels a few years ago and that’s really what put me off them and got me started reading the shorter and more focused vintage crime. It’s very rare for a crime novel to have enough content to fill over 500 pages…

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    • I know, I do often wonder what editors see their jobs as, especially in crime fiction – sometimes it feels as if they really only proofread the book. I’m glad to see the worm seems to be turning and more recent books are getting back to a more reasonable length…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Too bad this didn’t work for you over all, but at least it wasn’t a complete flop. I don’t mind Vera as a character, and read this a number of years ago before when I had much more patience, so got on with it better than you I think, and the second one was quite good too, but it sounds as though you and Cleeves are not a good mix over all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I used to have more patience too, but I’ve read about too many damaged detectives now to still find them interesting. I really prefer books that stay focused on the crime element, even if that can leave the detective feeling a bit bland. I have one more Cleeves already on the TBR – a Shetland one – so she still has a last chance to win me over… 😉

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  5. I don’t think I voted for this one. 😉

    Let’s heed the words of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe…. “Less is more”. I think that applies in writing as well as architecture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes, indeed – especially in crime fiction. If I’ve forgotten what the crime actually was before the solution comes around, then that’s a hint the book might be too long… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I forget whether I voted for this book or not but I do remember having higher hopes for it, mostly because of the setting and the intriguing blurb.
    Still snickering about your request for an editor to step forward 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I do like a damaged, maverick detective – ahem, John Rebus! – but I don’t want too much backstory, from three characters no less. I think you’ve given Cleeves enough of a chance. If someone hasn’t impressed me in two books then I usually move on too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, I’m completely inconsistent since I do like a few damaged detectives. I think it’s just that I’ve had my fill of them now. Rebus was original! Yes, I have one more of her books already on my TBR, so I’ll give her that last chance, but I think we’re just not a good fit. Oh, well!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Still giggling over your comments on this one, FF! Oh, dear. These extra-long, too-repetitive novels. I suppose publishers are eager that book buyers get sufficient bang for their buck, but I tend to agree with you (and probably would have abandoned the thing myself!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lots of readers clearly like them – she’s hugely popular! But I much prefer a book that gets on with the story rather than spending zillion of pages on repeating stuff or filling out backstories for everybody. Quality, not quantity! Oh, well!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Yeah, three stars sounds about right for this one. To be honest, I am glad I read them out of order (think I started with number three?) because some of the later books are much better. Also, I think we like completely different things in crime novels. The reason I read Ann Cleeves is for her characters and their lives and to some extent the setting. In some of the books, I am not even too bothered about the actual crime, because I am so invested in the characters (not Vera, but the ones which differ from book to book).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can understand that – her characterisation is usually very good, although I must say I thought she lost that too in the most recent one of hers I read, where she seemed to be trying so hard to be “woke” she sent me to sleep! But I do have one more of her books already on the TBR so she has one last chance to win me over. It’s a Shetland book and I enjoyed the first one in that series, so fingers crossed… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m truly sorry, that you’ve had several mediocre experiences of Cleeves’ books. Maybe she just isn’t for you? To some extent, I also think you have been unlucky with your choices.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s definitely mostly me – I’m simply not in tune with current crime fiction. I keep trying because I’ve always been a crime fan, but the ones I enjoy are few and far between these days.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. You know I hate long novels as much as you do, so this definitely isn’t one for me. But, interesting, I have a co-worker who is Scottish, and she also says ‘hey-ho’, sort of as an ‘oh well’ stand-in. Is that a Scottish thing?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, it might be – I quite often don’t know a word or phrase is Scottish till I use it and someone asks about it! It’s like ‘swither’ – I had no idea it was Scottish until an English blog buddy told me… 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. As I really enjoyed watching the Shetland TV series, I decided to try watching this, including the corresponding episode to this book, but I found Vera rather ridiculous and annoying! 😏 So after reading your review I will definitely avoid the books too! 😅

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t watch much TV but I’ve seen a couple of episodes of Vera. I love Brenda Blethyn, but was never inspired to make it a must-watch series, so that should probably have warned me! I do have the second book of the Shetland series on my TBR, though, and I enjoyed the first so fingers crossed!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’ve read all the Vera Stanhope books and she absolutely fascinates me. She is totally unlike any other fictional detective and yes, her methods are a bit odd at times. I think it’s in this story when her first appearance is as a bag lady at a funeral. She is damaged, unclubbable and full to the brim with back story. As she hits the page so late in this first one, you don’t get to know her all that well.
    I see that you’ve reviewed several other Ann Cleeves already, so, if she doesn’t work for you, move on to an author who does.

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    • I enjoyed the first Cleeves book I read – a Shetland one. And while this one was far too long it hasn’t put me off giving her another chance completely, especially since several people have said the series improves as it goes on, which is so often the case with series. Good to know you think Vera is a character worth getting to know better… 😀

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