Anne Cleeves marvelous four Shetland Island mysteries, previously reviewed by Auntie M, are joined by the fourth in her Vera Stanhope series. Silent Voices is Cleeves at her best, with the kind of involved plot that revolves around relationships we’ve come to expect  from this talented and prolific author, whose George and Molly books, Inspector Ramsey series, and several stand-alones rank high with the best of British crime writers.

Vera is an unlikely heroine, living with the ghost of her dead father in his house, overweight and lonely, but with an instinctive intuition that has made her a top detective.

This time she’s reluctantly following her doctor’s advice to lose weight, slogging away in the pool early mornings before work at the Willows, a former grand hotel showing its age, but still with pretensions. The Willows had been  taken over by a chain, who put the health club in its basement to increase its profits. Vera hits the steam room, sharing it with a slender, long-legged woman who looks utterly at ease, head thrown back in complete relaxation. Vera tries to copy the relaxed pose without success. Then as the steam clears a bit, she realizes the subject of her regard is dead, strangled in the steam room where she’d come for a bit of relaxation.

Vera swings into official mode, calling her sergeant, Joe Ashworth, to the scene, cordoning off the steam room. The woman is identified as Jenny Lister, aged forty-one, head social worker in the area for fostering and adoptions. She leaves behind a daughter, Hannah, eighteen, and host of unanswered questions.

With her team interviewing the Willows staff, Vera and Joe try to unearth a motive for the murder. They find a connection to a case Jenny had worked on that had led to the death of young child. Soon it emerges that the caseworker of that same boy has moved to the village.

Cleeves does a fine job of illustrating Joe’s struggle to keep his home life, with a wife and young children, on an even keel as the murder investigation heats up–and so does Vera’s joy at being involved in a murder. Death, and finding the killer, brings Vera a surge of renewed vigor that some might find distasteful but that bring Vera the feeling of worthiness she craves.

There are plenty of characters here to choose from, some with motives clear and others fuzzy, but things unfold in what seems a natural way as Vera pursues the killer. And then a young man is murdered just as a young mother and her child go missing, and suddenly the stakes are upped.

This series is being serialized on ITV3, and stars Brenda Blethyn and has twice been nominated for two Dagger awards.  Cleeves received the 2006 Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Crime Novel for Raven Black.