The Seagull is the first of Ann Cleeves’ novels I have read and it won’t be the last. I was pleasantly surprised by the flow of the story, the writing and intrigue until I discovered that Ann Cleeves is the author behind the TV series Vera and the BBC’s Shetland. I watch both these programs and find them really absorbing.
Vera’s new boss asks her to visit prison inmates to talk about the victims’ experiences and begrudgingly she agrees. Upon arriving at the prison and entering the small chapel where many of the inmates appear elderly and disabled, she comes face to face with former detective superintendent and now inmate, John Brace. Brace was convicted of corruption and involvement in the death of a gamekeeper – and Vera was involved in his downfall.
After Vera gives her talk and is leaving the chapel, Brace asks to have a word with her. They use the chaplin’s office for privacy. Brace promises to provide Vera with information about the disappearance and death of his one-time friend and colleague Robbie Marshall if Vera will look out for his daughter and grandchildren. He elicits a promise from Vera that she will visit his daughter and help her where she can. When he knows she has kept her promise he will let her know where Marshall’s body is buried.
Vera contacts his daughter Patty, arranges help for her then returns to the prison to get the information promised to her. Brace subsequently informs Vera that Marshall’s body is buried close to St Mary’s Island in Whitley Bay. When a search team investigates, however, they find not one skeleton, but two.
This cold case turns out to be full of intrigue, shadowy figures from both the past and present and the mystery appears to revolve around a nightclub called The Seagull, which burnt to the ground many years ago. However, Vera, undeterred, mobilises her team into action and begins to track down the nefarious and slippery characters surrounding Brace.
One, in particular, nicknamed the ‘Prof’ appears to be particularly hard to find. Further complicating matters for Vera is the fact that her father Hector was also involved with this ‘gang of four’ who participated in various shady activities including stealing eagles’ eggs to sell to Arab countries. How Robbie Marshall was murdered and why, and what involvement Vera’s father may or may not have played in this regard, causes Vera some discomfort.
Whilst she was aware that Hector sailed close to the wind in his activities, she cannot bring herself to imagine he could stoop to murder.
This novel is a very satisfying read and held my interest all the way. The cast of characters was well rounded out so that I had no difficulty in remembering who was who in the scheme of things and the plot slowly draws to a satisfying conclusion.
The Seagull is Anne Cleeves’ eighth novel in the bestselling Vera Stanhope series and covers several themes, including corruption in the heart of a community and fragile and fracturing relationships. She has written more than 25 novels and is a member of the ‘Murder Squad’, working with other British northern writers to promote crime fiction.
The Seagull by Anne Cleeves is available in hardback, paperback, and e-book from the publishers, Pan MacMillan Australia.