The Seagull by Ann Cleeves

Seagull

Macmillan| September 2017|print length 416 pages|e-book| 5*

The Seagull is Ann Cleeves’ eighth novel in her Vera Stanhope series, set in Northumberland. It begins as Vera visits the prison where ex-Superintendent John Brace is serving time for corruption and his involvement in the death of a gamekeeper. He had been one of the so-called ‘Gang of Four’ – Brace, Robbie Marshall, a man known simply as ‘The Prof’, and Vera’s father, Hector Stanhope. Brace tells Vera that Robbie, who had disappeared years ago, is dead and that he will tell her where his body is buried if she will visit his daughter Pattie, who has mental health problems.  She does so, but when the police investigate the location Brace gave her they find not one skeleton, but two. 

Opening up this cold case brings back memories for Vera of her past when she was living at home in a remote cottage in the Northumberland countryside, with Hector, after her mother had died.  The Gang of Four had met at Hector’s cottage when Vera was a teenager. They had traded in rare birds’ eggs and sold raptors from the wild for considerable sums. They were regulars at the (fictional) classy Seagull night club, a sleek Art Deco building built in the thirties in Whitley Bay,  during the town’s glory days. Brace and Marshall had also run a recruitment service providing muscle for hire. And Vera wonders just how much Hector had been involved in the Gang of Four’s illegal activities. 

And just as Vera and her team, Joe, Charlie and Holly – Vera’s own ‘gang of four’ – investigate Robbie’s murder they are faced with a present day murder that looks very much as though it links in with their cold case.

I enjoy watching Vera on TV, but I enjoy the books even more. Brenda Blethyn is very good in the role of Vera, but the Vera in the books is not the same as the TV Verashe is more down to earth, a large woman who wears tent-shaped dresses, has bare legs, wears size seven sandals with rubber soles and Velcro straps and she is none too fussy if her feet are dirty. She is a big woman with a big personality and she knows she is a brilliant detective:

‘Oh, I’m interested in everything, Joe. That’s why I’m a bloody brilliant detective’. She gave him her widest smile, ‘That’s why I’m in charge and you’re sitting there, doing as you’re told.’ (page 45)

She still lives in the cottage in the hills (not on Lindisfarne as in the TV series), which she had inherited from Hector along with a freezer full of animal corpses (Hector had done a bit of taxidermy), but most of the action takes place in Whitley Bay and at St Mary’s Island, a small rocky tidal island, linked to the mainland by a short, narrow causeway which is submerged at high tide.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Seagull and loved the way it reveals Vera’s past and her relationship with her father. At the same time the plot kept me guessing almost to the end and the location, well known to Ann Cleeves as it used to be her home town, is superbly described.

I see on Ann Cleeves’ website that ITV have confirmed that there will be a tenth series of VERA, based on Ann’s characters and settings and starring multi-award-winning Brenda Blethyn. The cast have been filming in the North East through the summer. Four new episodes will be broadcast in 2020.

And she has recently published a new  book, The Long Call, the first in a new series, Two Rivers. It is set in North Devon, where Ann grew up, and introduces the reserved and complex Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, estranged from the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, and from his own family, but drawn back by murder into the community he thought he had left behind.

The Long Call was published in Australia on 27th August, in the US on Tuesday 3rd September and in the UK on Thursday 5th September 2019.

Reading challenges: Mount TBR, Calendar of Crime

A-Z of TBRs: E-Books: G, H and I

Once again I’ve been looking at all the forgotten e-books on my Kindle and this is the third instalment of my A – Z of my e-book TBRs – with a little ‘taster’ from each. These are all fiction.

Go set a watchman

G is for  Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, on my Kindle since November 2014. I remembered I hadn’t read this when recently I got a copy of Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep, in which she tells the story Harper Lee wanted to write and why she couldn’t after the success of To Kill a Mockingbird (which I loved).

Atticus Finch shot his left cuff, then cautiously pushed it back. One-forty. On some days he wore two watches: he wore two this day, an ancient watch and chain his children had cut their teeth on, and a wristwatch. The former was habit, the latter used to tell time when he could not move his fingers enough to dig in his watchpocket. He had been a big man before age and arthritis reduced him to medium size. He was seventy-two last month, but Jean Louise always thought of him hovering somewhere in his middle fifties – she could not remember him being any younger, and he seemed to grow no older. (page 17)

Go Set a Watchman is set two decades after To Kill a Mockingbird and is the story of Jean- Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – as she returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Her homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt.

I’d dithered over whether to read this and then forgot I had it!

Hidden depths

is for Hidden Depths by Ann Cleeves, on my Kindle since March 2014. It’s the 3rd book in her Vera Stanhope series, which I have been reading totally out of order. It doesn’t spoil my enjoyment, especially as over the years I’ve been watching the TV series and I think I remember seeing the TV version of Hidden Depths years ago.

It’s hot summer on the Northumberland coast and Julie Armstrong arrives home from a night out to find her son strangled, laid out in a bath of water and covered with wild flowers. In the following extract, his mother, Julie is talking to Vera:

Julie was sitting on the floor, her knees pulled up to her chin, her arms clasped around them. She looked up at the detective, who was still watching and waiting. It came to her suddenly that this woman, large and solid like rock, might once have known tragedy herself. That was why she could sit there without making those stupid sympathetic noises Sal and the doctor had made. This woman knew that nothing she could say would make it better. But Julie didn’t care about the detective’s sadness and the thought was fleeting. She went back to her story. (15).

Ann Cleeves is one of my favourite authors and I really should have read this book when I first bought it.

In too deep

I is for In Too Deep by Bea Davenport, on my Kindle since July 2013. I had totally forgotten that I had this book. Five years ago Maura fled life in Dowerby and took on a new identity, desperately trying to piece her life back together and escape the dark clouds that plagued her past. But then a reporter tracked her down, and persuaded her to tell her story, putting her own life in danger once again.

So then as I just get out the shower and the door buzzer sounds, I catch my breath. No-one ever comes to see me, and I don’t receive post unless it’s junk mail. When a man’s voice asks for Maura Wood, I feel a grip on my heart, clenching like a fist. I am frozen with fear.

I shiver involuntarily, goose bumps covering my body like guilty fingers. I haven’t heard that name for almost five years. I pull my towel tighter around me. ‘No, sorry. There’s no-one here of that name.’

But the voice has picked up on my pause. ‘I was told Maura Wood lives here. Is that not you, Maura?’

‘No, I’m not Maura. I’ve told you. Who is that?’

(7%)

Bea Davenport is the writing name of former print and broadcast journalist Barbara Henderson. In Too Deep, was her first crime/suspense novel. Bea spent many years as a newspaper reporter and latterly seventeen years as a senior broadcast journalist with the BBC in the north-east of England. Originally from Tyneside, she lives in Berwick-upon-Tweed, not very far away from me. I haven’t read any of her books.

If you’ve read any of these books please let me know what you think. Or if you haven’t read them do they tempt you?

My Friday Post: The Seagull by Ann Cleeves

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves is one of my TBRs, that I should have read as soon as I got it – but didn’t. It’s the 8th book in her Vera series.

Seagull

Prologue

The woman could see the whole sweep of the bay despite the dark and the absence of street lights where she stood. Sometimes it felt as if her whole life had been spent on the half-light; in her dreams, she was moon-lit or she floated through the first gleam of dawn. Night was the time when she felt most awake.

I like the opening of this prologue and I’m wondering how it fits into the story that follows.

Chapter One

John watched the door from his wheelchair and wondered who’d be dragged in to speak to them today. An orderly carried through a mug of tea and left it on the floor beside him, though he must have realized it would be impossible for John to reach it from his chair.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Joe thought all that made sense. He imagined an elderly Robbie Marshall sitting in the sun on the balcony of a Spanish apartment, using a different name, his long nose even redder.

So, three extracts from The Seagull, and I’m wondering how they all fit together? Maybe the blurb will help …

Blurb:

When prison inmate and former police officer John Brace says he’s willing to give up information about a long-dead wheeler dealer in return for protection for his family, Vera knows that she has to look into his claims.

But opening up this cold case strikes much closer to home than Vera anticipates as her investigation takes her back in time to The Seagull, a once decadent and now derelict nightclub where her deceased father and his friends used to congregate.

As Vera’s past collides dangerously with the present, she will have to confront her unwanted memories and face the possibility that her father was involved in what happened. The truth is about to come out but is Vera ready for what it will reveal?

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Six Degrees of Separation: from How To Be Both to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month (April 6, 2019), the chain begins with Ali Smith’s award-winning novel, How to be Both.

How to be both

How to be Both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a Renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real—and all life’s givens get given a second chance.’ (Goodreads)

I haven’t read this book but I’d like to sometime. I see that there are two versions: one begins with the contemporary story, the other with the 15th-century story. This reminded me of Carol Shields’ book Happenstance, two stories about the same five-day period – one from Jack Bowman’s point of view, and the other from his wife, Brenda’s. They’re printed in the same book in an unusual format of containing two books in one, either can be read first – then turn the book upside down and read the other story.

Happenstance

My next link is a bit of a jump – from the character Brenda in Happenstance I immediately thought of Brenda Blethyn, who plays Vera in Ann Cleeves’s books. One of these books is Silent Voices in which D I Vera Stanhope finds a dead body in the sauna room of her local gym. The victim, a woman had worked in social services – and was involved in a shocking case involving a young child.

Social Services also feature in Fair of Face by Christina James. Ten year old Grace is being fostered when her foster mother and her baby are found dead in their beds. Social Services are asked to work with the police, in order to question Grace and her friend Chloe, a child from a troubled family.

Another author with the name James, is P D James, also a crime writer. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is a Cordelia Gray detective story in which she takes on an assignment from Sir Ronald Callander, a famous scientist, to investigate the death of his son, Mark who had been found hanged in suspicious circumstances. Mark had left Cambridge University without completing his degree and had taken a job as a gardener.

My next link is to Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons, set mainly in an exclusive and expensive girls’ school, Meadowbank, in England. Some new staff members have been appointed, including Adam Goodman, a handsome young gardener.

My final link is to another school, the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Muriel Spark’s novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Marcia Blaine is a traditional school where Miss Brodie’s ideas and methods of teaching are viewed with dislike and distrust. The Head Teacher is looking for ways to discredit and get rid of her. The girls in her ‘set’ fall under her spell, but one of them betrays her, ruining her teaching career.

Different formats, the name ‘Brenda’, Social Services, authors’ surname ‘James’, gardeners,  and girls’ schools all link How To Be Both to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Except for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie the books in my chain are all crime fiction and apart from How To Be Both I’ve read all the books in the chain – clicking on the titles takes you to my posts, where they exist.

Next month (May 4, 2019), the chain will begin with Jane Harper’s debut best-seller, The Dry.

My Friday Post: Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves, one of the books I’m planning to read soon. It’s the 8th and last book in her Shetland series.

Wild Fire (Shetland Island, #8)

Emma sat on the shingle bank and watched the kids on the beach below build a bonfire. They’d dragged pieces of driftwood into a pile; it was something to do to relieve their boredom. Nothing much happened in Deltaness.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

 

‘It’s a suspicious death,’ Perez said. ‘None of us know yet how or why Emma died.’

‘But it wasn’t suicide, was it? there was no way she could have done that to herself.’

Perez didn’t answer.

Blurb (Amazon)

Drawn in by the reputation of the islands, a new English family move to the area, eager to give their autistic son a better life. But when a young nanny’s body is found hanging in the barn of their home, rumours of her affair with the husband begin to spread like wild fire.

With suspicion raining down on the family, DI Jimmy Perez is called in to investigate. For him it will mean returning to the islands of his on-off lover and boss Willow Reeves, who will run the case.

Perez is already facing the most disturbing investigation of his career, when Willow drops a bombshell that will change his life forever. Is he ready for what is to come?

~~~

I’ll be sad to come to the end of Ann Cleeves’s books about Perez but I think she’s right to end it with this book – as she says in this articleI decided to finish writing about the islands while I was still enjoying it. I’d hate to start repeating myself, boring my readers, losing enthusiasm for my characters. This feels like the right time for it to end.

The TV series continues though – the first episode of series 5 was on shown BBC 1 on Tuesday night! The adaptations have expanded the books. As Ann Cleeves explains: ‘From series three, the format moved away from self-contained adaptations to longer, six-episode original stories. These allowed plots and characters to develop and for some of the action to move away from the islands.’  

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves

Cold Earth is the seventh book in Ann Cleeves’ bestselling Shetland series

Cold Earth (Shetland Island, #7)

Blurb:

In the dark days of a Shetland winter, torrential rain triggers a landslide that crosses the main Lerwick-Sumburgh road and sweeps down to the sea.

At the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait, Jimmy Perez watches the flood of mud and peaty water smash through a croft house in its path. Everyone thinks the croft is uninhabited, but in the wreckage he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. In his mind, she shares his Mediterranean ancestry and soon he becomes obsessed with tracing her identity.

Then it emerges that she was already dead before the landslide hit the house. Perez knows he must find out who she was, and how she died.

My thoughts:

I loved the first 6 books in the Shetland series and Cold Earth is no exception. It works on all levels – a murder mystery to solve, with beautiful descriptions of the landscape, conveying a real sense of place, convincing characters with realistic dialogue, a well paced plot and above all a writing style that doesn’t intrude on the story, but leads you to keep on turning the pages from the beginning to the end. I featured this book in this My Friday post, quoting the opening sentence and a teaser from page 56.

The dead woman’s identity puzzles everyone on the island, although one person must know who she is as among the things found in the debris left in the croft is an unsigned letter addressed to Alis saying what a joy it is to welcome her back to the island.  Perez felt her exotic appearance and black hair and eyes could indicate that like him she was of Spanish descent. He and Sandy Wilson, his sergeant are joined by Chief Inspector Willow Reeves (originally from the Hebrides) from the Inverness team to head up the investigation. Perez is both troubled and distracted by her, but realises just how much he wants her to be in Shetland with him running the investigation.

As usual Perez works very much on his own, but Sandy is gaining more confidence in his detecting skills and helped by Perez he makes a valuable contribution, as they eventually discover the identity of the dead woman, why she was on the island and why she was killed.

If you haven’t read any of the Shetland books, but have seen the TV series, you’ll notice that there are some significant changes – notably in the characters of Cassie, Fran’s daughter who is still a child in the books but has grown up in the TV stories, and the relationship between her father, Duncan Hunter and Perez. And Douglas Henshall, who plays the part of Perez, is not physically like Jimmy Perez – Perez has long dark hair with Spanish ancestry in his blood, whereas Douglas Henshall is a redheaded Scot.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2376 KB
  • Print Length: 401 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1447278216
  • Publisher: Macmillan; Main Market edition (6 Oct. 2016)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating: 4*

The Shetland Series – the books read well as stand-alones, but I think it’s better to read them in order as you can then follow the development of the main characters.:

Challenges:

My Friday Post: Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My book today is Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves, one of my TBR books, that I’ve just begun to read.

Cold Earth (Shetland Island, #7)

It begins:

The land slipped while Jimmy Perez was standing beside the grave. The dead man’s family had come from Foula originally and they’d carried the body on two oars, the way bodies were always brought for burial on that island.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Outside the rain had stopped and a faint, milky sunlight filtered through the gloom. Instead of looking back towards Lerwick, Sandy headed towards Sullom Voe and stopped at the new hotel that had been built just outside the village of Brae. Its accommodation was used solely for oil, gas and construction workers and had been full since it had been slotted together like a giant bit of Lego several years before. Sandy had been inside once for the Sunday-lunch carvery. It felt a bit like going abroad and wandering into another world.

~~~

Blurb

In the dark days of a Shetland winter, torrential rain triggers a landslide that crosses the main Lerwick-Sumburgh road and sweeps down to the sea.

At the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait, Jimmy Perez watches the flood of mud and peaty water smash through a croft house in its path. Everyone thinks the croft is uninhabited, but in the wreckage he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. In his mind, she shares his Mediterranean ancestry and soon he becomes obsessed with tracing her identity.

Then it emerges that she was already dead before the landslide hit the house. Perez knows he must find out who she was, and how she died.

~~~

I have read all the preceding Shetland books and watched the TV adaptations of Ann Cleeves’ novels, both the Shetland and Vera series. The books and the TV versions are separate things – the TV versions are based on Ann Cleeves’ characters but plotlines and the characters can differ. For example Cassie, Fran’s daughter, in the TV version is a teenager and goes to university, whereas in the books she is a child. I prefer the books, although I really appreciate seeing the beautiful setting and the scenery of both Shetland and Northumberland in the TV versions.

What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading?