The second novel to feature Inspector Vera Stanhope is an involving mystery set in the fictional coastal village of Elvert in East Yorkshire. Emma and James are a young married couple with a new baby, who have recently come to live in the area. James is a pilot, regularly travelling to Hull and other ports to guide the huge trawlers into the harbour. Emma overhears James and their neighbour, a handsome man called Dan who runs a ceramics studio, mention that Jeanie Long has committed suicide. Jeanie was imprisoned ten years ago for killing a young teenager.
As Emma thinks back to the past, it transpires that she’s rather involved in this story. She was the best friend of the murdered girl, and in fact was the person who discovered her body all those years ago. At the time, she was living a rather tedious life with an overbearing father, Robert, who had been a businessman in York but who had “found God” and retrained as a probation officer, hence his relocation to this small village near the prison. Her mother Mary, is a bit of a doormat and her younger brother Christopher more interested in his own solitary pursuits than in any of his family. Determined to escape, Emma went to university, met and married James, but is now somewhat disconcerted that he has insisted they live near Emma’s parents, so she has family around during his many absences.
When Jeanie’s death is reported in the papers, a man comes forward to tell the police that she could not have committed the crime. Jeanie’s story in her defence was that she had been in London on the day of the murder, but nobody at the time could corroborate her account. The person she saw in London was about to travel, so had missed the news and did not know that Jeanie had been convicted of the crime. His evidence is deemed convincing, so the police now have to re-open the case as well as investigate the robustness of their own earlier, flawed investigation. Hence they call in a representative from a neighbouring force who could not have been involved in any errors or cover-ups, in the shape of Vera Stanhope.
Vera undertakes her investigation in her own, idiosyncratic way. She doesn’t ask witnesses into the police station but travels round their homes, nosing about and getting them to talk in unguarded moments of gossip. She knows that Dan, the ceramics man, was on the police force at the time of the murder, but left soon after Jeanie was convicted. Why? Caroline Fletcher, Dan’s immediate superior who was in charge of the earlier investigation, also left the police force soon afterwards, and it isn’t long before Vera discovers a huge conflict of interest. Even James, Emma’s husband, seems to be hiding something in his past.
Telling Tales is a really good read. It’s a solid crime plot, and an insightful account of the way people in small, isolated communities live and think. There are plenty of minor characters who come to life, and plenty of action to keep the pages turning. My only complaint about the book is that I found the identity and psychology of the murderer unbelievable. I knew who I thought was responsible and I was wrong, but had I been right, the denouement might have been more obvious but I think it would have been more convincing. I also felt that Vera did not come into the book enough! She’s a great character, and we learnt quite a bit about her background in the previous novel in which she appeared, The Crow Trap. Here, we learn very little more about her personal life, but she’s a treat in all the scenes in which she appears, and I am looking forward to encountering her again in Hidden Depths, her next outing.