The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves. Macmillan. 384pp. $34.99.
Who would believe that Ann Cleeves drew on inspiration from Raymond Chandler when creating her iconic detective, Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope? Chandler's advice was that if you were "stuck with a book, have a guy burst through the door with a gun."
Cleeves remembered this and even though she admits, "I don't do guns", she was writing a funeral scene in a chapel, " so I had the door burst open. And really, almost literally, in came Vera, fully formed. I had a name and described her as looking more like a bag lady than a detective and she was carrying her notes in a plastic carrier bag".
Vera doesn't care what she looks like but she is clever, insightful and not to be underestimated. She has now featured in nine more novels and in a long running TV series starring Brenda Blethyn, which began in 2011. Cleeves admits, "I do have Brenda in my head now when I write".
The Rising Tide, the 10th in the Vera Stanhope series, is set on Lindisfarne, Holy Island, off the Northumberland coast, linked to the mainland by a causeway but isolated twice a day by the rising tide.
Fifty years ago a small group of sixth form students, led by an idealistic young English teacher, Miss Marshall, had come to the island for a weekend course called Only Connect, part Outward Bound, part encounter group, part team-building session. "And there had been a connection, so strong and fierce that after fifty years the tie was till there, unbroken and still worth celebrating".
As a result, every five years they return to the island to celebrate their friendship and remember their friend Isobel who had drowned as the tide rose on that first weekend.
Five of the remaining six friends have returned for their five year reunion: Philip who is a priest nearing retirement; Louise and Ken, who have married but Ken now has Alzheimer's; Anna who owns a successful deli on the nearby mainland and Rick, a popular TV personality disgraced after complaints of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
After a wine-fuelled dinner, Rick boasts that he once had sex with Miss Marshall and that he intends to write a novel. He tells his friends, "You'll find our pasts very much brought back to life. All our secrets actually finally seeing the light of day".
Rick has always been obsessed with death and, when he's found dead the next morning, the immediate response is that he's committed suicide. But Vera is not convinced. She uncovers hidden secrets that lead to a tense, tragic ending.
The Rising Tide is classic Cleeves: an atmospheric, gripping police procedural in which the environment is as deadly as the desperate murderer . . . and with Vera.
What more could you ask for in a crime novel?
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