Ann Cleeves and Dead Water

I loved Ann Cleeves’s Shetland QuartetRaven Black, White Nights, Red Bones and Blue Lightning, so I was delighted to read her latest book, Dead Water, which takes the Quartet one step further. Actually, it’s the first book in a new Shetland Quartet, in which each book will be named after the four elements –  earth, air, fire and water. Each of the Shetland books reads 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. And Dark Water does refer to events in earlier books.

In Dead Water Rhona Laing, the Fiscal, finds journalist Jerry Markham lying dead, drifting in a yoal, a traditional Shetland boat in Aith marina. Markham, a Shetlander visiting his parents, was apparently working on a story for a national newspaper – maybe about the development of renewable energy proposed for Shetland, or maybe his reason was more personal? Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez is not the man he once was, since the death of his fiancée and at first he takes a back seat in the investigations, led by Detective Inspector Willow Reeves (originally from the Hebrides) who is drafted in from the Inverness team to head up the investigation. But eventually his natural curiosity takes over and he decides to help the inquiry, and his knowledge of the local community is vital in catching the killer.

I really enjoyed Dead Water, a mixture of mystery and the creation of  totally believable characters, set in Shetland Mainland.  The book is well paced, with the tension steadily building and Ann Cleeves writes with clarity, so that you can easily picture the people and the places she describes. She gives just the right amount of detail for the reader to feel immersed not only in the story but also in the life of the islands – the history and traditions, and the changes brought about the development of sustainable energy.

Last Tuesday evening D and I went to Main Street Trading bookshop where Ann Cleeves gave a talk about how she first went to Shetland and came to know and love the islands. She also talked about her decision to write crime fiction based in Shetland, and how she first pictured a scene in the snow  which eventually became the first book, Raven Black, after hearing stories of the islands from an old Shetlander.

She also spoke about the new BBC TV Shetland series, which she told us is being broadcast in March, beginning with an adaptation of Red Bones. Admittedly Douglas Henshall, playing the part of Perez, is not her vision of Jimmy Perez, after all, Perez has long dark hair with Spanish ancestry in his blood, whereas Douglas Henshall is  redheaded Scot, but she is happy both with him in the role and with the alterations that have been made. As she explained, once she has finished writing a book it passes out of her hands and each reader has their own individual interpretation. She cannot see what is in the minds of readers, but she can see the director’s interpretation in the TV version of her book! I’ve seen the trailer and it does look good.

Ann Cleeves is an excellent speaker, just as she is an excellent writer. On her website you read about her books and the forthcoming series and also download a leaflet Discover the Mystery of Shetland which has a map, beautiful colour photos and a commentary from Ann about the real and fictitious locations in her books. It’s very good – I was given a copy last Tuesday.

Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves has become one of my favourite writers this year and Silent Voices is one of the best crime fiction books I’ve read recently. Although it’s the fourth in her Vera Stanhope series it’s the first that I’ve read. I did watch some of the TV versions of Vera earlier this year but I missed this one, so the plot was completely new to me.

Synopsis (taken from the back cover):

When DI Vera Stanhope finds the body of a woman in the sauna room of her local gym, she wonders briefly if, for once in her life, it’s a death from natural causes. But closer inspection reveals ligature marks around the victim’s throat…

Doing what she does best, Vera pulls her team together and sets them interviewing staff and those connected to the victim, while she and colleague Sergeant Joe Ashworth work to find a motive. While Joe struggles to reconcile his home life with the demands of the job, Vera revels being back in charge of an investigation. Death has never made her feel so alive.

And when they discover that the victim had worked in social services – and was involved in a shocking case involving a young child – it seems the two are somehow connected.

But things are rarely as they seem . . .

My view:

When I began reading I could visualise and hear Brenda Blethyn as Vera, but gradually that impression faded away and the character of Vera began to take shape in my mind from the words in this book alone. Vera is a truly eccentric individual, intelligent, single minded and dedicated to her job, single and with no family responsibilities. She finds it difficult to delegate and is exhilarated by her job. In the following extract she has phoned Joe late at night:

Her voice was loud. She’d never really got the hang of mobiles, yelled into them. She sounded as if she’d just woken up after a good night’s sleep. Murders took her that way, invigorated her as much as they excited the pensioners he’d spent all afternoon interviewing. Once, after too many glasses of Famous Grouse, she’d said that was what she’d been put on the Earth for. (page 67)

The other characters are equally as well- defined. As well as creating memorable and individual characters Ann Cleeves conveys a strong sense of place bringing the Northumbrian countryside, towns and villages to life as I read. The plot is nicely complicated and although I had an inkling about the killer I was wrong, but looking back I could see where I’d been misled. Silent Voices is an excellent book, one that kept me turning the pages and exercising my brain.

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Pan (16 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330512692
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330512695
  • Source: Library book
  • My Rating: 5/5

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month – June 2012

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise by Kerrie. I read 5 crime fiction books this month and my pick of the month is:

Red Bones by Ann Cleeves

Red Bones is the third book in Ann Cleeves’s Shetland Quartet. It’s set on Whalsay, where two young archaeologists, excavating a site on Mima Williams’s land, discover human bones. They are sent away for testing – are they an ancient  find or are the bones more contemporary? Sandy Wilson, Inspector Jimmy Perez’s sergeant is Mima’s grandson. He is visiting his family when late one night he finds Mima’s body. It appears she was shot accidently by his cousin Ronald, out shooting rabbits. Then one of the archaeologists is also found dead, and even though it appears to be suicide Jimmy and Sandy are not convinced, thinking it could be murder.

I really like these Shetland mysteries. They are complicated and slow-moving books that enable you to immerse yourself in the mystery. The characters have depth and the locations are superbly described. In this book Ann Cleeves explores both the history of the island, its close-knit community, its traditions and the intricacies of the close family relationships. In contrast to the rest of the series the novel is narrated by Sandy as well as Jimmy and consequently both their innermost thoughts and feelings are revealed.

Red Bones is currently being filmed for a two-part TV drama. More good news – Ann Cleeves’s website reveals that there is another Jimmy Perez mystery in progress  – Dead Water to be published in January 2013.

The four books in the Shetland series are:

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves

The Crime Fiction Alphabet is run by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. This week’s letter is the letter B.

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves is the fourth in her Shetland Island Quartet, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. I listened to the audiobook, which I borrowed from the library and I also read some of it on my Kindle. I don’t often listen to audiobooks as I prefer to read, but this was ideal for listening in the car on my recent weekday visits to Edinburgh. Listening to the audiobook was good, even though the male narrator couldn’t do a convincing female voice, especially a teenage female voice!

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Shetland Detective Jimmy Perez knows it will be a difficult homecoming when he returns to the Fair Isles to introduce his fiancee, Fran, to his parents. It’s a community where everyone knows each other, and strangers, while welcomed, are still viewed with a degree of mistrust. Challenging to live on at the best of times, with the autumn storms raging, the island feels cut off from the rest of the world. Trapped, tension is high and tempers become frayed. Enough to drive someone to murder…

When a woman’s body is discovered at the renowned Fair Isles bird observatory, with feathers threaded through her hair, the islanders react with fear and anger. With no support from the mainland and only Fran to help him – Jimmy has to investigate the old-fashioned way. He soon realizes that this is no crime of passion – but a murder of cold and calculated intention. With no way off the island until the storms abate – Jimmy knows he has to work quickly. There’s a killer on the island just waiting for the opportunity to strike again…

My thoughts

I like the ‘locked room’ aspect of the mystery. Because of the bad weather on Fair Isle no one could come or go and Jimmy had to do the best he could without his senior officer’s help. The murdered woman is Angela, the director of the field centre. Jimmy could take his time interviewing the suspects one by one and as practically everyone at the centre, staff and visitors, was a suspect it was difficult to work out who the murderer was.

Suspicion is first cast on Poppy, Angela’s teenage step-daughter, but it could have been any of them from Maurice her husband, to Ben the assistant warden, or the visiting bird watchers, or even one of the islanders. The tension is high to start with and steadily mounts as Jimmy even begins to suspect his father.

Fran, meanwhile, is not sure she wants to live on Fair Isle when she and Jimmy are married, feeling trapped there and missing her daughter, although she gets on well with his parents. She tries to help Jimmy with the investigation, but he doesn’t want to put her in any danger. But no one is safe, especially after there is a second murder.

The setting is excellent with detailed descriptions of Fair Isle, all of which made me want to visit, even though access by both boat and plane does sound precarious. This is how Fran and Jimmy approach the island:

Fran sat with her eyes closed. The small plane dropped suddenly, seemed to fall from the sky, then levelled for a moment before tilting like a fairground ride. She opened her eyes to see a grey cliff ahead of them. It was close enough for her to make out the white streaks of bird muck and last season’s nests. Below the sea was boiling. Spindrift and white froth caught by the gale-force winds spun over the surface of the water.

I’ve been watching Vera, the TV dramatisations of Ann Cleeves’s other detective series and I see from her website that the Jimmy Perez books are to be televised as well, with Douglas Henshall playing the part of Jimmy. I’ve enjoyed watching Vera, maybe because I haven’t read those books and I’m a bit wary of watching TV versions of the Jimmy Perez books simply because I have read them.

The four books in the Shetland series are:

I’ve read 1, 2 & 4. Whilst they do read OK as stand-alones I think it’s better to read them in sequence.

White Nights by Ann Cleeves: a Book Review

White Nights (Shetland Island, #2)

White Nights by Ann Cleeves is the second in her Shetland Quartet, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. The first book is Raven Black, which I read and wrote about last year. I enjoyed this one just as much as the first and, although I think it stands well on its own, I think it best to read them in order as some of the characters appear in both and you can follow the development of their relationships.

White Nights is set mainly in Biddista, a fictional village of a few houses, a shop, an art gallery and restaurant called the Herring House, and an old Manse. Kenny Thomson finds a man’s body hanging in the hut where the boat owners of the village of Biddista keep their lines and pots. Perez recognises the dead man – he’s the mystery man who had caused a scene the previous evening at the opening of Bella Sinclair’s and Fran Hunter’s art exhibition. At first it looks as though the man, his face covered by a clown’s mask, has committed suicide, but he’d been dead before he was strung up and the murder team from Inverness, headed up by Roy Taylor, are called in. It takes quite some time before they can identify the dead man and even longer before the motive for killing him is revealed. And that is only after more deaths have occurred.

This is a most satisfying book for me. It’s not only full of believable characters, each one an individual in their own right, it also has a nicely complicated plot and a great sense of location. As well as the mystery of who killed the man in the clown mask and why, there is also the disappearance 15 years earlier of Kenny’s older brother Lawrence. It was thought that he left the island after Bella had broken his heart. Kenny hadn’t heard from him since and at first thought the dead man could be him.

It’s the place, itself, that for me conveyed the most powerful aspects of the book. The ‘white nights’ are the summer nights when the sun never really goes down. They call it the ‘summer dim’, the dusk lasts all night, and in contrast to the bleak, black winters, fills people with ‘a kind of frenzy‘. The landscape and the climate certainly play a great part in people’s lives.Taylor feels very much an outsider, almost too impatient to cope with what he thinks is Perez’s hesitant approach, until it occurred to him that

here in this bizarre, bleak, treeless community, Perez’s strange methods might actually get results. (page 263)

I could see the landscape and the sea, and I could hear the birds, the kittiwakes on the cliffs, the puffins and skuas. The Shetland Islands are part of theBritish Isles, but are so far north of the mainland that they are on about the same latitude as the southern point of Greenland.

However, I did think that the ending came rather suddenly after the careful build up to the mystery. The tension just gradually faded away as it became obvious who the culprit was. But I still think it’s a very good book, that held my interest, one that made me want to get back to it each time I had to put it down.

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Pan (5 Jun 2009)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0330448250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330448253
  • Source: Library Book
  • My Rating: 4/5

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves: Book Review

Raven Black is the first book I’ve read by Ann Cleeves. It’s set in Shetland and begins on New Year’s Eve with Magnus Tait seeing the new year in on his own. Magnus, a simple elderly man lives by himself, shunned by most of the other islanders.  To his delight two teenage girls knock on his door to wish him a Happy New Year. One of the girls is Sally, the daughter of the primary schoolteacher and the other is Catherine, an English girl whose father is the Head Teacher at Anderson High School.  A few days later Catherine is found dead in the snow not far from Magnus’s house, strangled with her own scarf.

Eight years earlier a young girl, Catriona, had gone missing and had never been found. At the time, although he had never been charged with anything, everyone was convinced that Magnus had killed her. When Catherine’s body is discovered the police and the locals immediately suspect that Magnus must have killed her.

Inspector Jimmy Perez, originally from Fair Isle, is in charge of the investigation until the arrival of a team from Inverness headed up by DI Roy Taylor. Whilst everyone else is convinced of Magnus’s guilt Perez doesn’t want to jump to conclusions and and feels pity for him. Perez is a fascinating character, descended from a seaman from the Spanish Armada, shipwrecked on Fair Isle. Coming from Fair Isle to Shetland he understands how it must have been for Catherine as an outsider. Catherine, though had not worried what others thought of her and had been making a film of the island, interviewing people getting them to reveal themselves to her camera.  As everyone who knew Catherine is questioned it becomes clear that several people could easily be her killer and I completely failed to identify the culprit. Thinking back over the book I could see that all the clues were there, but so skillfully planted that I failed to see them.

The tension between the islanders and the incomers is evident and also the loneliness of outsiders. Family ties, heredity and personal relationships are important themes running through the narrative.  There is also a strong sense of location and terrific atmosphere – the landscape, the sea, the weather, the circling ravens and the spectacle of Up Helly Aa (the Fire Festival), all anchor the story and bring the book to life.

Often the colours on the islands were subtle, olive green, mud brown, sea grey and all softened by mist. In the full sunlight of early morning, this picture was stark and vibrant. The harsh white of the snow. Three shapes silhouetted. Ravens. (page 28)

There are three more books set in Shetland, featuring Perez – White Nights, Red Bones and Blue Lightning. I’m looking forward to reading them all. I’m also  going to look out for her other novels set in Northumberland.