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by Ann Cleeves
Minotaur, April 2018
384 pages
ISBN: 1250135729

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In THE GLASS ROOM, Ann Cleeves again gives us a case featuring the astute but socially awkward Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope. DCI Stanhope may be the unlikeliest of crime solvers, overweight, middle aged and inept at personal relationships. Yet she is a relentless and insightful truth-finder. Together with her assistant DS Joe Ashworth, and other familiar members of her staff—Holly and Charlie—she is able to work through the densest scenarios and figure out "who did it."

This book begins with a missing person, a young woman named Joanna Tobin who happens to be Vera's neighbor and for whom she has some degree of affection. Joanna's partner Jack pleads with Vera to look into the disappearance. When she does, she discovers that Joanna has secretly taken herself to a writer's retreat deep in the countryside, an elegant mansion converted into The Writer's House.

A motley assortment of published writers and would-be writers have gathered for a posh weeks-long course on mystery writing. The host of the gathering, Miranda Barton, is herself a writer whose work was once all the rage but is no longer popular. She is a flamboyant character who may be hiding something. Her quiet son Alex is the chef at the house and his lack of strong emotion is in contrast to his mother's affect.

Vera arrives at the house just in time for the aftermath of a murder. Tony Ferdinand, a critic and one of the tutors engaged for the week, is found stabbed to death. At first, the murderer seems clear—Joanna is seen with a knife in her hand leaving the scene. But it quickly becomes apparent that the knife she was seen holding is the not the one actually used in the murder. Hidden agendas, backgrounds, and prior relationships slowly emerge amongst many of the people in the aftermath of this gruesome murder. It becomes clear that no one really liked the murder victim, but motives for killing him are elusive. The writers are a self-absorbed bunch and are prepared to continue their workshops, writing, readings, and fine dining, even though the murder investigation is taking place all around them and they are being interviewed as both witnesses and possible perpetrators.

Many suspects emerge. At first there seems to be too many suspects, but that is the fun of the story. Is it Joanna, because of her past? Is it someone who has been disappointed in publishing? Is jealousy a motive? Is revenge a motive? Then there is another murder and it seems that the murderer is using some of the actual crime writing of the group to set up his scene and attack. Vera's careful research and meticulous police work eventually lead her to discover the culprit and prevent further mayhem.

Ann Cleeves creates characters with whom we enjoy spending time. Vera is of course the one we focus on, but each of the other players, whether police or suspect, are fully developed people. We are interested in them and care about their lives. Like many of the best mystery writers, the joy of reading Cleeves is hanging out for a few hours with these folk as well as solving a crime.

§ Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, May 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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