Sunday, October 20, 2013

Raven Black and White Nights: Ann Cleeves

Recently I read two books in the Shetland mystery series by Ann Cleeves: Raven Black (2006) and White Nights (2008). I enjoyed them immensely. I had only intended to read the first book, but as soon as I finished the first one I had to move onto the second.

Yet I am finding this a hard review to write. I liked the books, I want to read all of the series, but I cannot point to any one thing that make them so compelling.

Uppermost for me in these books is characterization and setting. The main character is DI Jimmy Perez and even before reading this series I wondered why a character with such a name is a policeman on the Shetland Islands. It turns out his ancestors came from Spain but have been living in the Shetland Islands for centuries. So he fits in very much with the culture of the islands, and deals well with the people on the islands. For the major crimes that are investigated in these books, a team from Inverness is brought in and DI Roy Taylor is the policeman in charge of the investigation. Taylor is a direct contrast to Perez, and finds the slow, methodical approach of Perez to be irritating at times.

In addition to the primary characters, we get to know several other people who are closely involved with the crime, and much of the story comes from their viewpoint. It allows a very full picture of the community and the relationships within it.

The pace of these books is very slow. The pace of the books seemed to mirror the pace of life in the islands, where people don't like to be hurried. This is completely different from the previous book I read (Frantic by Katherine Howell). Frantic was more focused on movement and action and less on characterization. But I enjoyed the books by both authors, and reading both close together emphasized for me how different books can be, yet still be compelling and a good mystery.

Raven Black involves the murder of a teenage girl in an area where a much younger girl disappeared a few years earlier. This first book takes place in the cold winter when winter fire festivals take place. The Up Helly Aa festival plays a part in the plot.

The second book in the series, White Nights, centers around the death of an outsider, a visitor to the islands who no one appears to know. That book is set at the time of year (mid-summer) when it never really gets dark, a phenomena it is hard for me to imagine.

The Shetland Islands is a very different setting from any I have read about before. Per Wikipedia, the Shetland Islands "is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies north-east of mainland Britain." The largest island is known as "Mainland." The action in both these books takes place on that island, although in different parts of it. There are 15 other inhabited islands; one of them is Fair Isle, which is where Jimmy Perez was raised. I learned a great deal about the islands from reading the book (and doing research online afterwards).

From the author's website, a description of the Shetland mystery series:
Raven Black was initially intended as a standalone novel - after all, how many murders could there be in Shetland? But the book was so successful, winning the first Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for the best crime novel of the year, as well as numerous fans, that Ann wrote another Shetland mystery, and then another - until she had completed a quartet covering all four seasons and a tour of the archipelago.

The turning of the year's circle and the dramatic changes it has brought for Jimmy Perez don't mean the end of the story - Ann's latest book, Dead Water, brings new beginnings - and the start of a new quartet based on the four elements: earth, water, fire and air.
On that same page, there is information about the TV series based on the books and links to maps of Shetland.


26 comments:

  1. TracyK: I enjoyed reading Raven Black. I found it took me awhile to get involved with the book but was glad I made the effort. I was drawn in more by the characters and the setting than the plot. I have another to read in the series. Your post is a reminder to read it.

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    1. Bill, I agree, characters and setting were more interesting than the plot. I liked the 2nd book a lot too.

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  2. Tracy, this sounds good, but it might have to wait for a year or two - maybe if I tackle a UK counties challenge. Her other series with Vera Stanhope, has been adapted for TV over here and is fantastic. I'm watching as opposed to reading!

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    1. Col, I want to read the Vera Stanhope series, and read at least a few books before I watch any of the TV series. I have read some of her Inspector Ramsey series, and enjoyed that one too.

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  3. This is my first visit to your blog. (I discovered you on Judith's blog Reader in the Wilderness)I wanted to tell you how much I like the name of your blog.
    I like that you write about pace in your review. I love crime and thrillers but I don't like it when the pace is too quick. Those books with cliffhnagers at the end of every chapter. That said both Cleeve novels sound like something I'd like to try.

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    1. Caroline, thanks for stopping by. I like the name of your blog too... Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. We have a new cat, have only had her about 4 months, and we still are overwhelmed by how beautiful she is.

      I hope you try the Shetland mysteries.

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  4. Tracy - Thanks for the fine review and the good reminder of this series. It is a terrific and well-written series isn't it? And I like the way that Cleeves develops her characters over the course of the novels.

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    1. Margot, the development of the characters in the two books I have read so far is one reason I really liked the books, and also the reason I moved on to the second one immediately. I am very eager to read #3 but probably will have to wait until 2014.

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  5. I loved this series - started hesitantly, then immediately wanted to read all the books. I think she is a great writer, and like Col I enjoy her Vera Stanhope too - TV series and books. There was a TV programme made of one of the Shetland quartet - I don't know if they're going to carry on with others.

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    1. Moira, I agree, just getting started with the series makes me want to read them all. There is no end to the list of authors / books I want to read, but I will have to pick and choose. We are interested in the Shetland TV series... when it is available here on DVD or whatever, and what I heard is that they are continuing it.

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  6. I guess I'm confused so these are apart of a quartet? and are standalone novels essentially? Which titles are apart of her Vera Stanhope series? I own one title, The Blind Goddess that is apart of the latter. Will do some checking. You've made me want to read this soon. I broke down and started another Ken Bruen title after experiencing a reading slump recently. I think I'm gonna go for it and read them all.

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    1. Keishon, I did think that the two novels that I have read could stand alone. Sort of. I think they read better in order, but ... not sure. I want to read all her series. She even has an earlier series about a couple who are bird watchers. But I don't know that much about her books and she has written a lot of them.

      Ken Bruen is a perfect author to beat a reading slump. I look forward to reading the next Bruen in either series.

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    2. Yep, I did it. I mixed up the two writers Ann Cleeves and Anne Holt. Jeez.

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    3. Keishon, you are right, I looked up Blind Goddess and I do have that book by Anne Holt. Haven't read anything by her yet.

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  7. Completely new to me (I know, I always say that ...) - thanks TracyK.

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    1. Sergio, Cleeves has been writing since 1986 but gained more attention after she won the Gold Dagger for Raven Black in 2006. I have only read these two and a couple of Inspector Ramsey novels. I will have to get back to that series.

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  8. Tracy, I didn't know about Ann Cleeves and her fiction either. Thanks for reviewing her books as well as you did.

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    1. Thank you, Prashant. I am interested in comparing the two other series she writes that I have not read to this series. But don't know when I will find the time.

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  9. Oh, groan, another series. I just can't keep up. Is there a most recommended book in the quartet? Books keep piling up here, and I'm daunted right now. And don't even mention the TBR lists in Word files. I'm getting the under the avalanche syndrome, and trying to remember to breathe and relax and not think of reading as a task.

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    1. Kathy, I know what you mean. I want to add more books to my TBR piles every day. This is a great series, and I would recommend the first one, Raven Black. But ... it can wait until you have whittled down your stacks some.

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  10. I think the setting definitely contributes to the appeal of this series. I always think Anne Cleves writes books that are understated and it's this restraint that makes them of such a high quality.

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    1. Sarah, understated is a good description. I hope I get to the rest of the series soon.

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  11. I'm in mystery burnout right now, but I'm really thinking I will be reading these next year.

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    1. Ryan, this would be a good series when you return to mystery reading.

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  12. These sounds fascinating! Lately, I've really enjoyed slower books with good character and place descriptions. I've also got to admit that I'm doing some judging based on the covers which I think are just beautiful :)

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  13. Katie, it is a great series and the covers are lovely.

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