Very hot summer day in Bordeaux, especially in my attic room which overlooks our neighbours’s blue swimming pool ! I feel like flopping down on a deck chair in the garden with a good book and fresh lemonade. Of course I would choose a detective novel or a thriller ! It’s quite topical on Scotiana presently and the Scottish crime fiction pit we are searching seems to be bottomless. We’re discovering new books every day.
So eager were we, on opening our blog, to speak about Scottish people, beautiful landscapes, mysterious castles, towns and villages that if somebody had told me then that we were to devote so much time to Scottish crime fiction, I wouldn’t have believed him. But here we are and here we will go on, trying to cope with our growing pile of detective novels and thrillers to read. Mind you, we’re taking notes. After some hours of suspense, time to reflect!
The atmosphere of the place being a key ingredient in crime fiction recipes, no wonder Scotland is being so successfully chosen as a place for that kind of fiction. So, it is with great enthusiasm that, yesterday, I discovered Ann Cleeves, a British crime fiction writer whose “Scottish sense of place” seems to be particularly developed.
Among other books, Ann Cleeves wrote a collection of four novels entitled The Shetland Quartet . She is not a native of the place nor even of Scotland mainland but having lived some time on Fair Isle, where she met her husband, an ornithologist from the west of England, she knows her subject perfectly.
Each title of The Shetland Quartet evokes a colour which can easily be linked to Scotland : black, white, red and blue while the synopsis of the stories reveal the importance of specific themes : day and night, dark and light, the seasons. Take a look how beautiful and expressive the book jackets are.
As written by Anna Burnside in an article entitled “Ann Cleeves unveils Shetland murder mystery” published in The Sunday Times of 20 April, 2008 : “As a location, it’s perfect – an enclosed community, a dramatic landscape, incomers versus the established community, a summer season of tourists to add new flavours to the mix. It is the traditional village mystery transplanted to the North Sea, with the remnants of the oil industry and vast trawlers as a backdrop.”
On her website the author has included a map of Shetland that was cleverly modified to situate the stories.
It is a cold January morning and Shetland lies buried beneath a deep layer of snow. Trudging home, Fran Hunter’s eye is drawn to a vivid splash of colour on the white ground, ravens circling above. It is the strangled body of her teenage neighbour Catherine Ross. As Fran opens her mouth to scream, the ravens continue their deadly dance …The locals on the quiet island stubbornly focus their gaze on one man – loner and simpleton Magnus Tait. But when police insist on opening out the investigation a veil of suspicion and fear is thrown over the entire community. For the first time in years, Catherine’s neighbours nervously lock their doors, whilst a killer lives on in their midst. Raven Black is a haunting, beautifully crafted crime story, and establishes Ann Cleeves as a rising talent in psychological crime writing …’A riveting read. Ann Cleeves probes beneath the surface of a community to reveal the darkness that can fester when everyone thinks they know each other’s secrets’ - “Val McDermid”. Source: Amazon
“It’s midsummer in Shetland, the time of the white nights, when birds sing at midnight and the sun never sets. Artist Bella Sinclair throws a party to launch an exhibition of her work and to introduce the paintings of Fran Hunter. The Herring House, the gallery where the exhibition is held, is on the beach at Biddista, in the remote north west of the island. When a mysterious Englishman bursts into tears and claims not to know who he is or where he’s come from, the evening ends in farce. The following day the Englishman is found hanging from a rafter in a boathouse on the jetty, a clown’s mask on his face. Detective Jimmy Perez is convinced that this is a local murder. He is reinforced in this belief when Roddy, Bella’s musician nephew is murdered too. But the detective’s relationship with Fran Hunter clouds his judgement. And this is a crazy time of the year when night blurs into day and nothing is quite as it seems.” Source: Amazon
“Spring: a time of rebirth and celebration. And a time of death…for April is the cruellest month. When a young archaeologist studying on a site at Whalsay discovers a set of human remains – the island community is intrigued. Is it an ancient find – or a more contemporary mystery? Then an elderly is shot on her land in a tragic accident and Jimmy Perez is called in by her grandson – his own colleague Sandy Wilson. He finds two feuding families whose envy, greed and bitterness has divided the surrounding community. With Fran in London, and surrounded by people he doesn’t know and a community he has no links with – Jimmy finds himself out of depth. Then another woman dies and as the spring weather shrouds the island in claustrophobic mists the two deaths remain shrouded in mystery. ” Source: Amazon
“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…” Source : Amazon
I’ve already bought Raven Black and I’m looking forward to reading it. I had to refrain from buying the first three volumes at the same time but I hope to get and read them before Blue Lightning is published.
On 29 June 2006, Ann Cleeves won the inaugural Duncan Lawrie Dagger, the biggest crime writing prize in the world for Raven Black, published by Macmillan. Peter Ostacchini, Deputy Managing Director, Duncan Lawrie Bank, presented her with the dagger and her £20,000 prize at the 2006 Dagger Awards ceremony, which took place at the Waldorf Hilton in London’s Aldwych on Thursday 29 June. In all, seven daggers were awarded on that night.
Given our focus on crime fiction it could be interesting to give our readers a list of these awards. Hey Janice, isn’t that a good idea? Let me know.
A bientôt !