The Crow Trap – Ann Cleeves
I love Ann Cleeves and that’s the only reason I kept going with The Crow Trap, the first in the Vera series (I’ve read all the Shetland novels and a later Vera mystery). However, it was worth it for when the story finally lifts off around page 400, with Vera emerging for the first time as the central point of view.
For much of the book, Vera is only glimpsed – not mentioned at all until a couple of hundred pages in other than a minor reference you’d only recognise if you already knew her as a character. And Joe Ashworth is barely sketched in at all, which is a shame as he’s such a tremendous foil for Vera. It all feels unbalanced and the structure of the book – a vast amount of the first half is flashbacks and backstory about a couple of the characters that is either largely immaterial to the story or could be woven in far less intrusively – chokes the flow.
Another challenge is that, reading it in 2020, the book feels dated. First published in 1999, it has some language I found problematic. There are repeated references to one of the characters having “committed suicide” – we are now so far beyond thinking of suicide as committing a crime that this really jarred with me. Women are frequently referred to as “girls” – the men are always “men”. One of the characters seems to be black or mixed race but this is conveyed in rather coy, tentative language, a mention of dark skin and teeth looking white against his skin among other things, which made me cringe.
However – as always with Cleeves, there’s a wondrous complicated plot and strong intertwined sub-plots. Vera does spring off the page once she’s allowed more than a cameo appearance. When you get past the logjam of the first couple of hundred pages things move along nicely, and while it’s not an unpredictable killer the clues along the way are tidied up satisfyingly in the final wrap-up.
First published 1999 by Macmillan. Edition I read published in 2016 by Pan.