As someone who has come very late to the wonderful work of mystery writer Ann Cleeves, I’m enjoying a rather unsystematic part-catch-up: I’ve watched all the Shetland TV series (here’s my review of Season 5), without reading a book yet; have read the first book in her new Matthew Venn series (check out the review here); and have commenced Season 9 (yes, Season 9!) of the TV series of Vera. As well, I’ve lapped up the ninth offering of Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope in book form, “The Darkest Evening,” and I can report that it is an exuberant, atmospheric police procedural that makes for a captivating read. Those of you who are Vera fans will find my unfamiliarity amusing, but I’m delighted by her eccentric, bull-in-a-china-shop brilliance. In this outing, a snowbound storm stopover at a posh Northumberland mansion, one she knows from childhood, plummets her into a labyrinthine murder investigation. Cleeves plots marvelously, with just the right number of McGuffins, her supporting cast of police is splendid, and the suspects all come to life on the page. The English countryside is evocatively presented. How could I have missed out on Vera all those years?