I feel pretty silly about this. It makes sense to read French murder mysteries in French, in an attempt to maintain language skills. Thus Fred Vargas. But it’s pretty cumbersome to read an English murder mystery in French, just because you found it in a Parisian book store and thought it looked good and didn’t even know it was originally written in English. Your native language.
This little folly may have affected my opinion of Ann Cleeves. The last third of the book dragged somewhat — it felt like some of the less exciting recent P.D. James novels — but then again, I might just have been losing focus, or missing crucial vocabulary. The good news is that I liked Telling Tales enough to follow up with Cleeves. There are apparently four novels featuring the homely, overweight police inspector Vera Stanhope, whose powers of observation and curiosity combine with her unconventional methods. Telling Tales is a pretty conventional police procedural about a ten-year-old murder of a young girl. New evidence has come to light that exonerates the woman who was convicted of the murder, but this news doesn’t reach her in time. She commits suicide.
A small community is essential to this kind of story-telling and Telling Tales is set in a northern English village where (you expected this, right?) many of the characters have secrets. Interesting atmosphere; much of the novel is set amidst the shipping on the Humber river (teaching me lots of new French words I will never be able to use). Emma found Abigail Mantel’s body when the two of them were fifteen years old. Her hard-won peace of mind and domestic contentment is threatened by the news of Jeanie’s death. Before long there is another death and suspicion falls on other residents of the village. OK, yes, it’s formulaic. But Cleeves is adept: timing, psychology, foggy atmosphere, all contribute to the apparent success of the book. I’ll know more when I’ve read one in English, though.