Murder mystery isn’t my usual reading genre, but I enjoyed Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves very much regardless. The cover advertises this book as “A Vera Stanhope Novel. As seen on ITV,’ so I imagine the main character, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, has a string of books and television series in which she stars. I haven’t read any of these or seen the series, but this didn’t take away from my enjoyment of this story.
Harbour Street is set in a seaside town called Mardle, located somewhere near Newcastle, in England, the week before Christmas. Detective Joe Ashworth is on a crowded train with his teenage daughter when a fellow passenger, Margaret Krukowski, is murdered by an unknown person.
Joe’s boss, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope takes charge of the investigation while Joe and the rest of Vera’s team begin delving into the murdered woman’s life.
The victim, Margaret, was an elegant and still beautiful woman in her seventies, when she died. Her past was mysterious, and when her secrets are revealed, they are quite surprising. Margaret boarded in Harbour Street with Kate Dewar, a single mother with two teenage children. Margaret was almost a surrogate mother to Kate and a grandmother to Kate’s children, as well as working alongside Kate in the boarding house, but somehow Kate and her family weren’t as sad as I would have expected them to be in the circumstances.
This may not be a fair observation, because different people and different culture grieve differently and react to bad news differently. My feelings about their reaction to Margaret’s death made me care a bit less about Kate and her children though, which for me, weakened the story slightly.
The Mardle and Harbour Street community are very little help to Vera and her staff’s investigation of Margaret’s death. Community members each have their own secrets and reasons for not wanting to assist, but when a second woman is murdered, the police have to keep trying to make connections, to prevent more murders from taking place.
Vera is a strong-willed, intelligent woman who also has connections to the Mardle community. She calls everyone ‘Pet,’ which amused me enormously, as my mother calls her children ‘Pet,’ possibly because she forgets our names! Vera is also ugly and obese, which makes a change from female heroines who are beautiful, or beautiful in a quirky way etc.
There was a potentially unresolved issue in the story, which annoyed me when I finished the book. **SKIP the next paragraph if you ever intend to read this book. **
The second murdered woman, who was an alcoholic and occasional prostitute, had a baby who had been adopted out many years ago. There is a hint that another character might have been her child, but this is such a slight suggestion that I am wondering if I missed something, or read too much into this possible connection. While I enjoyed the book, I didn’t enjoy it enough to read it again to find out for sure. If anyone else has read this book, please let me know what you think about this possible connection – is the person who hums a particular song the parent of the person who was a singer before she retired?
I didn’t guess who the Harbour Street murderer was before the big reveal. For me, the murderer was the most unlikely person in the book and I wish it had been someone else. I think the clues were there in the story though, but I missed them.
I haven’t read enough murder mysteries to be an expert in this genre, but for what it’s worth, I enjoyed Harbour Street.