The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

19th March 2020.    4 stars.

This is not your usual crime fiction. That’s why it appealed to me and why I enjoyed the story. I would also add that I’ve never watched the TV series.

The story starts with three women, brought together by an environmental impact assessment, prompted by an application to build a quarry. Naturally, feelings run high on both sides of the fence. Rachel, Anne and Grace are tasked with carrying out the assessment and each tells their own story about the events leading up to the apparent suicide of Bella, who owned the cottage where the women are staying.

At first, it reads like a psychological suspense novel with secrets and misdemeanours being revealed by each of the women. Then there’s a murder and DI Vera Stanhope enters the story like a tsunami. Unconventional, eccentric, with a dry sense of humour, but always mesmerising, she’s a tour de force, taking over the story with her no nonsense approach to detection. From this point on, the story is largely hers as she sifts through the evidence to identify the killer.

The novel’s well-written, the Northumberland setting atmospheric, and the characters given a chance to breathe and develop through the course of the story, leading to a sizeable list of suspects, all with motives to kill. The environmental issues give the story a contemporary feel, even though the story isn’t your usual police procedural.

However, allowing the characters so much space and time meant Vera Stanhope’s entry into the story was delayed until almost halfway through. While the characters were interesting and well-written, my interest began to waver several times up to this point.

The solution and arrest of the killer was also over in the blink of an eye after the usual meandering and struggles to sift the clues from the red herrings.

But these are niggles in what was an enjoyable and entertaining read with a detective who will remain long in my memory in these days of traumatised cops, constantly battling their past and spending cuts.

If you like atmospheric writing and don’t mind a story that takes it time to develop, which makes it a long read, I would recommend this book.


Three very different women come together at isolated Baikie’s Cottage on the North Pennines, to complete an environmental survey. Three women who each know the meaning of betrayal . . .

Rachael, the team leader, is still reeling after a double betrayal by her lover and boss, Peter Kemp. Anne, a botanist, sees the survey as a chance to indulge in a little deception of her own. And then there is Grace, a strange, uncommunicative young woman, hiding plenty of her own secrets.

Rachael is the first to arrive at the cottage, where she discovers the body of her friend, Bella Furness. Bella, it appears, has committed suicide – a verdict Rachael refuses to accept.

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

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