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The Moth Catcher (Vera Stanhope Series #7)
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The Moth Catcher (Vera Stanhope Series #7)

by Ann Cleeves

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Life seems perfect in the quiet community of Valley Farm. Then a shocking discovery shatters the silence. The owners of a big country house have employed a house-sitter, a young ecologist, to look after the place while they’re away. But his dead body is found by the side of the lane—a lonely place to die.

When DI Vera Stanhope arrives on the scene, she


Life seems perfect in the quiet community of Valley Farm. Then a shocking discovery shatters the silence. The owners of a big country house have employed a house-sitter, a young ecologist, to look after the place while they’re away. But his dead body is found by the side of the lane—a lonely place to die.

When DI Vera Stanhope arrives on the scene, she finds the body of a second man. What the two victims seem to have in common is a fascination with studying moths—and with catching these beautiful, intriguing creatures.

The others who live in Valley Farm have secrets too: Lorraine’s calm demeanor belies a more complex personality; Annie and Sam’s daughter, Lizzie, is due to be released from prison; and Nigel watches, silently, every day, from his window. As Vera is drawn into the claustrophobic world of this increasingly strange community, she realizes that there may be many deadly secrets trapped there . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In British author Cleeves’s atmospheric and well-wrought seventh mystery featuring Det. Insp. Vera Stanhope (after 2015’s Harbour Street), 25-year-old graduate student Patrick Randle has come from London to house-sit for a grand family in the gentle Northumberland community of Valley Farm, but shortly into his stay, he’s found dead by the roadside. Vera later discovers the body of a middle-aged man in Patrick’s room; the two turn out to be connected only through enthusiasm for Lepidoptera. Suspicion falls on an unlikely group, the town’s clique of couples enjoying early retirement. Cleeves expertly draws Vere’s complex relations with her fellow detectives as well as the hidden springs of tension in the circle affected by the crime, touching on class relations, the ennui of middle age, and the deceits, frailties, and tenderness of long marriage. Though the book’s deliberate pace may lose pure thrill seekers, patient readers will be rewarded as dread builds and old secrets surface. Agent: Sarah Menguc, Sarah Menguc Literary Agent (U.K.). (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"Atmospheric and well-wrought." --Publishers Weekly

“It’s easy to admire Vera’s brainpower. . . her adventures have been a hit on British television, and readers devoted to Cleeves’ tales of Jimmy Perez will want to give Vera a try.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A nice mixture, in the British tradition, of social comedy and detective work. More Vera, please.” --Booklist (starred review)

“Excellent . . . Intricate plotting makes for a compulsive read.” —The Independent (UK)

“Detective Vera Stanhope is a remarkable creation.” —Bookseller (UK)

“Cleeves has hit the big time . . . This is going to be a winner!” —BBC Front Row (UK)

"The Moth Catcher is set in the picturesque part of Vera's bailiwick. The great strengths of Cleeves' writing are the beautiful and convincing characterization and the storming story line." —Crime Squad

"Ann Cleeves is a skillful technician, keeping our interest alive and building slowly up to the denouement. Her easy use of language and clever story construction make her one of the best natural writers of detective fiction." —Sunday Express (UK)

"If you're a fan of Frances Fyfield, Minette Walters, or Val McDermid, get to know Cleeves." —The Globe and Mail (Canada)

Library Journal
In this latest from Dagger Award winner Cleeves, DI Vera Stanhope finds herself in the peaceable Northumberland community of Valley Farm, where a house sitter at a grand country home has just been found murdered in the lane. Then there's that second body in the attic. Look for this as episode three in Series 6 of ITV's popular Vera.
Kirkus Reviews
A series of murders in a rural area has the neighbors on edge.When a housesitter is found dead in a ditch in the Valley Farm area, DI Vera Stanhope (Harbor Street, 2015, etc.), who lives nearby, is first on the scene. Patrick Randle had been watching the house and caring for the dogs of the Carswell family, who are visiting relatives in Australia. When the police check out Randle’s attic apartment, they find another body with no identification. Vera’s team of steady Joe Ashworth and ambitious Holly Clarke soon identify the second body as that of computer specialist Martin Benton. Randle was on a break from university, and Benton was just going off invalidity benefits, claiming he’d be self-employed. The only connection the team can find between the two men is that they were both interested in moths. A nearby barn and farmhouse conversion is home to three retired families: Nigel and Lorraine Lucas, whose stunningly modern place is a real status symbol; professor John O’Kane and his wife, Janet, a former social worker; and Sam and Annie Redhead, locals who owned a highly successful restaurant in nearby Kimmerston. Although they all appear to lead idyllic lives, background checks and local gossip reveal hidden secrets and problems. The Redheads’ daughter is in jail, and the lover and employer she robbed forced Sam and Annie to sell him their restaurant. Lorraine is hiding the return of breast cancer from Nigel, and Janet is getting fed up with her husband’s domineering ways. When a third murder follows, Vera and her team must dig deep into the past and present of all involved to find the reason three seemingly unconnected people were killed. Characteristically well plotted, with plenty of complex characters to enjoy.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Vera Stanhope Series , #7
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Moth Catcher

By Ann Cleeves

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 Ann Cleeves
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-10543-1


Lizzie Redhead listened. In the prison it was never quiet. Not even now in the middle of the night. The other women in her room stirred, snuffling like animals in their sleep. No cells here. Dormitories that reminded her of school. No privacy. No darkness, either. A gleam from the corridor outside shone through the crack under the door, and though this was a low-security establishment there were spotlights at the walls and the gate, and the curtains were thin. Footsteps in the corridor outside. A screw checking that lass on suicide-watch. Two in the morning.

Lizzie worked in the prison farm, so she had access to fresh air and enough exercise to keep her fit, but that didn't mean she slept well. She'd never needed much sleep. She'd always believed she didn't belong to her parents; had decided when she was quite small that she was a foundling child, secretly adopted. What did they have in common after all? She had too much energy and a very low boredom threshold. Annie and Sam were soft and gentle, big on squidgy hugs and soppy kisses. Lizzie saw herself as hard and metallic. As an adult she'd chosen men like her. Flinty. Flint on flint made fire. Jason Crow had set her alight.

In a week she'd be released, and she was making plans. She'd become healthy in prison. She'd realized there were better ways to get her kicks than booze and drugs. Jason had taught her that too, though she hadn't believed him at the time. She knew, from all he'd told her, that she was lucky to have ended up in an open institution.

In prison her entertainment was simple. She visited the library and joined the writers' group. She had stories to tell and she needed to find the right words. In the library she'd found a book published by the National Geographic and kept renewing the loan until she believed the book was hers. She lay on her bed and looked at pictures of places she wanted to see for herself, felt dizzy at the idea of travelling, had in her nostrils the smell of the rain forest, the salt of distant seas. Huge places, big enough to contain her ambition. Her parents had spent all their life within ten miles of the valley where her father had been born. Lizzie needed tough places to battle with, rocks sharp enough to cut her flesh.

She'd been a cutter when she was a teenager, slicing into her arm with a razor, high on the smell of metal and blood. She still occasionally harboured dreams of steel, sharp blades, blood oozing in perfectly round drops from clean cuts. Her mother had never noticed. Lizzie had always been good at hiding her secrets. Now she was hiding Jason Crow's secrets too. She was haunted by them, but she waited for the time that they might be useful to her.


Percy steered the Mini down the lane from The Lamb towards the bungalow he shared with his daughter. On the passenger seat beside him sat Madge, a Border-cross and the best dog he'd ever had. She'd win prizes at the trials, if Percy could be arsed to train her properly. Percy's sight wasn't so good these days, so he drove with his nose to the windscreen peering at the road ahead. His daughter said he should stop driving, but hadn't done anything about it. She liked the two hours of peace his time in The Lamb gave her. Besides, the lane didn't go anywhere except the big house and those fancy barn conversions, and at this time of day those people were all drinking too. Susan, his daughter, went in to clean for them, and she said the recycling bin was full of bottles every week. Major and Mrs C from the big house were away visiting their son in Australia, so they wouldn't be driving down the lane. There was nothing else to hit, and the car could find its own way home.

Percy found that his mind was wandering. The beer was strong and he'd been persuaded to take a third pint from one of the youngsters who'd moved into the village. He was late. Susan would be waiting for him, her eye on the clock and his tea in the oven. She liked the washing up done and the kitchen all clean and tidy before the start of EastEnders. Her husband had run away with a lass from Prudhoe as soon as their kids had left home, and Susan had moved in with Percy. To take care of him, she said. To have someone to boss around, he thought, though he was used to her now and would miss her if she moved out.

The lane ran along the bottom of the valley. On each side the hills rose steeply, first to fields quartered with drystone walls where sheep grazed and then to open moorland. Close to the road there were trees, a narrow strip of woodland, with primroses now and the green spears that would turn into bluebells. New leaves just starting and the low sun throwing shadows across the road. He was retired, but he'd always earned his living on farms and could turn his hand to anything. He'd liked sheep-work best and this was his favourite time of year. Lambs on the hill and the scent of summer on the way. The sun starting to get a bit of heat in it.

The third pint was sitting uncomfortably on his bladder. That was something else Susan nagged him to go to the doctor about. He was up to the toilet several times a night. Sometimes he got caught short when he was out, pissing himself like a bairn just out of nappies. There was no fun in getting old, no matter what he said to the kids in the pub about having the perfect life. Me, I've got no worries in the world. When you got old there was the worry of indignity and dying. He pulled the car as close to the verge as he could get and jumped out. Just managed to get his zip undone in time, the water in the burn mingling with the sound of his own water aimed at the ditch. There was a moment of relief as he did up his trousers and he thought that he would make an appointment to see the doctor. He couldn't carry on like this.

Then he saw the boy's face, half-hidden by cow parsley. The eyes were open and the pale hair drifted in the ditch water like weed. They'd had a dry spell, so the ditch was less than half-full. Most of the face was above the water line. It was unmarked. No lines, no wounds. This was a young man, and he looked as if he'd just gone to sleep. He was wearing a woollen jersey and a waxed jacket, and the clothes that weren't lying in the mud at the bottom of the ditch looked clean and dry. Percy wasn't appalled by death. He'd killed beasts and he'd seen dead people. He'd just been too young to serve in the war, but when he was a child it hadn't been unusual for people to die at home. Now people mocked health-and-safety laws, but there'd been more accidents at work then too. Farm machinery without guards or brakes, foolish men showing off. And he'd been holding his wife's hand when she slipped away. It was a shock to see the boy lying here and it sobered him up, but he didn't want to vomit.

He looked at the face more carefully and took a moment to remember when he'd last seen it. Last week in the lounge of The Lamb. Eating one of Gloria's steak pies. Alone. He'd asked his mate Matty who the boy was, but Matty had no curiosity and didn't bother answering. And Percy had seen the boy again, more recently. Yesterday morning, strolling down the road towards the village. Percy had been up on the hill walking Madge and had meant to ask Susan about him. Susan was more nebby than he was and she knew all the gossip.

Percy walked back to the car and took the mobile phone out of the glove compartment. All around him blackbirds were singing fit to burst. It was that time of year. The time for marking territories and breeding. He always missed his dead wife most in the spring. Not just the friendship, but the sex.

Susan had given the phone to him so that she could keep track of him. She'd called him earlier this evening to remind him he should be on his way home, and that was why he'd headed straight to the car from the pub, without going to the Gents first. It didn't do to cross his daughter. He'd never used the phone before, but Susan had talked him through it when she gave it to him. The figures were big, so he could read them easily. His first call was to the bungalow. Susan had a temper on her; she could chuck his tea in the bin if he was late, and now that he was sober he was hungry. Then 999. The person on the other end of the line told him to stay where he was. Percy found a bar of chocolate in his jacket pocket and he waited. Doing what he was told for once.

* * *

He'd been expecting a police car or an ambulance. No siren. There was no rush after all; the bloke was quite clearly dead and cold. Percy had been thinking about it. At first he'd assumed some sort of accident. But if the lad had been knocked into the ditch by a car he'd have been lying on top of the vegetation, not hidden underneath it. The same would be true if the man had been taken ill. He might be walking on the verge to keep out of the way of a car or a tractor, but he wouldn't be that close to the ditch. Percy had come to the conclusion the bloke had been put there. Hidden. Even a walker in the lane wouldn't have seen the body unless he'd scrambled through the undergrowth like Percy, who'd been trying to retain a bit of his dignity by getting away from the road. Then he heard a vehicle, an old vehicle, coughing and spluttering. Madge had been asleep, but she woke up, gave a little growl until Percy put his hand on her neck. It was a Land Rover, so mucky and bashed that it was impossible to make out the original colour, and there was a woman at the wheel. He got out of his car to tell her that she was on the wrong road and this was a dead-end, and anyway she wouldn't get past him here, but she stopped and got out. He wondered how her knees managed the weight of her on the deep step down to the tarmac. She was big. No beauty. Bad skin and bad clothes, but lovely eyes. Brown like conkers.

'Percy Douglas?' A local voice.

He thought he might have seen her in The Lamb. Not a regular, but occasionally. The size of her, you wouldn't miss her even if she was sitting on her own in a corner.

'Aye.' It still didn't occur to him that she was here because of the body.

'I'm Vera Stanhope. Detective Inspector. I don't get out of the office much these days, but I live not far off, so I thought I'd come along.' She groped in her pockets for a moment, as if she was planning to show him some ID, but in the end all she pulled out was a half-eaten tube of mints. She gave up. 'Are you going to let me see this body of yours?'

'Nothing to do with me.' But he started down the lane.

'Hang on. I'd best dress the part or the CSIs will cut me up into slices and stick me in one of their fancy microscopes.' She reached into the Land Rover and pulled out a packet wrapped in plastic. There was a white paper suit with a hood, and white boots to go over her shoes. 'I know,' she said, when she was all dressed up, 'I look like the Abominable Snowman.'

She made him stay on the lane and point her in the direction of the body. She stood on the bank and looked down into the ditch. 'How did you find him? You can hardly see him, even from here.'

Percy felt himself blushing.

'Call of nature, was it?'

He nodded.

'I get taken short myself these days. Not so easy for a woman. You should thank your lucky stars.'

He could tell she wasn't thinking about what she was saying. All her attention was on the lad in the ditch.

'Do you know him?'

He shook his head. 'I've seen him about. In the pub in the village once. Walking down the lane a couple of days ago.'

'Where do you live?' Her voice friendly, interested.

'In the bungalow further up the lane. I built it when I first got married. Major Carswell let me have a bit of land. Most of my work was on the estate farms.'

She nodded as if she understood how these things worked. 'A bit odd then – you not knowing the man. If he was local.'

'He doesn't live in the valley.' Percy was sure about that. 'He's a visitor maybe.' He paused. 'Susan would probably know.'


'My daughter. Lives with me.'

There was the sound of another vehicle. This time a police car with a couple of uniformed officers inside. Vera Stanhope climbed back to the lane. 'The cavalry,' she said. 'Just in time. I'm gasping for a cup of tea, and you'll be starving. Why don't you make your way home and I'll follow you when I've chatted to the workers. Your Susan can tell me what she knows about the lad in the ditch.'

* * *

She turned up half an hour later. Percy and Susan were still at the table, but the cottage pie had been eaten and they were onto tea and home-made cake. His Susan had always been a lovely baker. There was no sweetness in her nature these days and Percy had the sudden notion that it all went into her cakes and puddings. The detective knocked at the kitchen door, but didn't wait for anyone to answer. Just inside, she pulled off her shoes. Percy thought that was a smart move. Susan couldn't abide anyone bringing dirt into the house.

'I hope I'm not disturbing you.' And with that, the detective was at the table, and Susan had already fetched another cup and saucer. Tea was poured and a slice of cake had been cut. The bright conker eyes were looking at them.

'Percy here told me you'd know all about the lad he found in the ditch. We've got a name for him now, at least. There was a wallet in his jacket with a credit and debit card. And a driver's licence. Patrick Randle. Does that mean anything to you?' She bit into the cake.

Susan was enjoying every minute of this. Since Brian had left and the kids had gone away – Karen to university and Lee to the army – gossip was what brought her to life. Malicious gossip suited her best, and she'd upset most of the women in the village. It pained him that she had so few friends. 'Patrick,' Susan said, 'that's the name of the house-sitter at the Hall.'

Vera looked at her without interrupting, and Susan continued.

'When the major and his wife go away to stay with their son in Australia, they bring someone in to look after the house. Well, it's more to look after the dogs really, but they feel happier knowing there's someone onsite at night. When they're away I still go in a couple of times a week – it's a good chance to give the place a good clean – but I wouldn't want to stay there or walk those great slobbering Labradors.'

'Is it always Patrick who stays, when they're on holiday?' Vera had finished her slice of cake. Without asking, Susan cut her another.

'No, it's usually a woman, middle-aged. Name of Louise. This time she was unavailable and the agency sent them the young man. I wasn't sorry. Louise acted as if she was lady of the manor, all airs and graces. She was the hired help, same as me.' That bitterness showing itself again.

'How long has Patrick been here?' Vera reached out for the teapot.

'Just a fortnight. He arrived on the Tuesday and that's one of my cleaning days. Mrs Carswell asked me to show him round and settle him in. There's a flat in the attic where their eldest Nicholas lived, before he went off to Australia, and the house-sitters always stay there.'

'What was he like, this Patrick?'

Percy was tempted to leave the women to it. This time of the evening he usually put on the television, and he never liked his routine disturbed. And he thought Susan would show herself up and say something nasty. But there was such a connection between the women, such concentration, that he was scared of moving in case he broke it.

'He seemed pleasant enough,' Susan said. Percy felt relieved. 'Easy to talk to. Relaxed. I asked why he was house-sitting. It seemed an odd way for a bright young man to earn a living.'

'And what did he say?'

'That it suited him just at the moment. He was between projects and he was enjoying exploring the country.'

'Projects?' Vera squinted at her. 'What did he mean by that?'

'I'm not sure. But that was what he said.'

'Where did he come from?' The questions were coming quickly now. Percy thought the fat woman would surely have an address, if she'd found his driver's licence, so what could that be about?'

'He didn't say.' Susan sounded disappointed. He saw that Vera Stanhope was providing her with attention, and she didn't get much of that these days.

'But you might be able to guess,' Vera said. 'From his voice, the way he spoke.'

Susan thought for a moment. 'He had a voice like a television newsreader. A bit posh.'

'From the South then?'

Susan nodded.

'When did you last see him?'

'Yesterday afternoon. Today I work for the people who live in the barn conversions. There are three houses at the end of the valley.'


Excerpted from The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves. Copyright © 2015 Ann Cleeves. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

ANN CLEEVES was the Malice Domestic Honored International Visitor in 2015. In 2016, she was a Left Coast Crime International Guest of Honor. Ann is reader-in-residence for the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and was twice shortlisted for the Dagger Award before winning the first Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for Raven Black.Vera, the television show based on the Vera Stanhope series, is available on Netflix. Ann Cleeves lives in England.

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