Ann Cleeves' brilliant - if eccentric - detective Vera Stanhope is back on our screens for a ninth season of VERA, ranked sixth best TV series of all time in a recent poll.
The series of four self-contained mysteries premiered on ITV on Sunday January 13th at 8.00 pm, and on BritBox on the same day for US viewers. Episode 1, titled Blind Spot, and episode 2, Cuckoo, are both available to watch on catch-up.
Don't miss episode 3, Cold River on Sunday 27th January at 8.00 pm: the successful businesswoman behind an empire of beauty salons throws a lavish party on board a boat on the River Tyne - only for her sister to be found dead in the water. Vera's investigation uncovers the possibility that the victim may have been in an abusive relationship - but may also have been about to bring a terrible secret to light that threatened her entire family.
A Doctorate for Ann
Ann Cleeves, one of Britain's best-known and most respected crime writers, received an honorary award of Doctor of Letters (Hon DLitt) from Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University on 4th December 2018.
Principal at RGU, Professor John Harper said: "Ann is a hugely respected and admired author and I am delighted that RGU is honouring her for her contribution to the world of literature and crime writing."
Ann says: "I was absolutely delighted to be awarded the honorary doctorate of letters from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. It was very special to have my friends and forensic advisors Prof James Grieve and Prof Lorna Dawson there to support me. Congratulations to all the people graduating that day."
This is Ann's second doctorate; she also has an Honorary Doctorate of Letters awarded by the University of Sunderland in 2014.
Farewell to Jimmy Perez
With Wild Fire, best-selling crime writer Ann Cleeves brings to a close her award-winning series of Shetland mysteries: an English family, drawn in by the beauty of the islands, 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. DI Jimmy Perez, called in to investigate, knows that it will mean the return to the islands of his on-off lover and boss Willow Reeves...
Wild Fire was published on Tuesday September 4th in the US and on Thursday September 6th in the UK; it went straight to number one in the Bookseller's weekly ranking of best-selling e-books! Wild Fire is the latest and last of Ann Cleeves's award-winning Shetland novels, so it's farewell to Jimmy Perez - and to say farewell properly, Shetland fiddler Cathy Geldard was commissioned to write a Farewell to Perez. She took as her starting point a traditional Fair Isle grace, which you can hear at the start of the video:
A TUNE FOR JIMMY PEREZ by Cathy Geldard: Video produced by Ian Stephenson at Simpson Street Studios.
The end of something good is always sad, but the completion of a hugely successful and very popular series is a reason to celebrate, too. Ann launched Wild Fire with a party on Wednesday 5th September at - where else? - Lerwick Town Hall. You can follow the link to join the celebrations, live from Lerwick, Shetland: https://t.co/p7pVPPIztH courtesy of Criminal Element (@crimehq). And Shetland Distillery Company, the most Northerly distillery in the UK has produced a special limited edition gin in conjunction with the launch.
Taking inspiration from the novel, Wild Fire is a balanced London Dry Gin with juniper and sweet spice notes that have a lingering and warming finish. Tasted neat, there are notes of warming cinnamon and sweet orange that linger on the palate. The long finish has an aromatic spice with a touch of heat from dried red chillies. Wild Fire pairs beautifully with premium tonic, which softens the heat from the spices and lifts the sweet citrus notes of the sorrel and orange peel. It is best enjoyed with a slice of orange and a copy of Ann Cleeves's Wild Fire.
Shetland Distillery Director, Stuart Nickerson said: "We were very excited when Ann approached us last year to create a gin designed to match her eighth and final Shetland book. We have taken a great deal of time over the gin production and hope all Ann's fans as well as our own customers enjoy Wild Fire which is a slowly warming gin with a lasting finish that mirrors the exciting end to the Shetland series of books."
Ann Cleeves said: "What better way to celebrate the last of the Perez books than by raising a glass of Wild Fire gin produced in the islands by the wonderful Shetland Reel?"
Wild Fire completes the second of Ann's Shetland Quartets, the Four Elements following the original Four Seasons. Read more about Wild Fire - or read more about Shetland: the books, the TV series, and the islands!
Best of British Crime Drama
A recent Radio Times poll asked viewers to name the best British crime drama of all time: and Ann Cleeves' creations were ranked in the top 10 not once but twice!
The poll, which received over 10,000 votes, put VERA at sixth place. Ann Cleeves' brilliant but unorthodox detective DCI Vera Stanhope, due to return with a ninth series in the New Year, is no stranger to awards. In April Ann was at Malice Domestic, to see Brenda collect her Poirot Award. Malice Domestic is an annual convention celebrating the traditional mystery, as exemplified by the books of Agatha Christie; it makes annual Agatha Awards to crime writers in that tradition, but the Poirot Award is given only when the convention wishes to honour someone other than a crime writer for their contribution. Ann agrees that her creation is enriched by Brenda Blethyn's performance as Vera: "She absolutely captures the spirit of the character," Ann says. "Now, I hear her voice when I'm writing dialogue for the books. She has that wit, humour and a touch of cruelty. I don't see Brenda so much because my vision of Vera is uglier than Brenda, even dressed-down Brenda, but I do hear Brenda's voice in my head." In a Radio Times interview, Ann admitted that sometimes Brenda tells her things about Vera that she hadn't known herself!
At number nine in the Radio Times list of all-time greats is another drama based on the work of Ann Cleeves, Shetland. Shetland is based on the characters and setting of Ann's award-winning novels, but after some initial episodes based on the books, recent series have made a successful transition to original stories, each one told over an entire season. Now, although there will be no more books, the show continues.
In series 4, Jimmy Perez (played by Douglas Henshall) had to deal with murders from the past and present - with unsettling similarities. It came to an end in a sixth episode in which the personal and the professional collided for the detective. Ann was stranded on Fair Isle at the time, as she explains in her Diary: "We ate Jimmy's lobster and drank champagne and cheered at the end when it was announced that the show would run again. The cast and the crew will soon be back filming. I hope the weather treats them more kindly.". A popular favourite, Shetland is also highly rated by fellow professionals: series four gathered three nominations in the Scottish BAFTA Awards: one for best scripted television show, one for scriptwriter David Kane, and one for actor Douglas Henshall (DI Jimmy Perez).
As if all this weren't enough, both VERA and Shetland are contenders in the National Television Awards. We await the awards ceremony in January, when the winners will be announced.
VERA, the books
The Seagull is the eighth and latest case for Vera Stanhope, Ann Cleeves's unorthodox but brilliant detective. It is the first of Ann's books to be published simultaneously in the UK (by Pan MacMillan) and in the US (by Minotaur Books). It is now also available in paperback in both the UK and the US.
A visit to her local prison brings Vera Stanhope with an old enemy: former detective superintendent, and now inmate, John Brace. Brace was a close friend of Hector, her father; then he was convicted of corruption and involvement in the death of a gamekeeper - and Vera played a part in his downfall. Brace promises Vera information about the disappearance of Robbie Marshall, a notorious wheeler-dealer, if she will look out for his daughter and grandchildren. He tells her that Marshall is dead, his body is buried close to St Mary's Island in Whitley Bay. However, when a search team investigates, officers find not one skeleton, but two.
Louise Penny, author of the award-winning Armand Gamache series of murder mysteries, says "I loved The Seagull - quite simply it reminds me why Ann Cleeves is one of my favorite mystery writers! I relish learning more about Vera with each book, and The Seagull provides fresh insight into one of our most complex and lovable sleuths."
All about Vera, the TV series and the books.
Ann Cleeves: "the worthiest of winners"
On 26 October 2017, Ann Cleeves was presented with the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers' Association, the highest honour in British crime writing, at the CWA's Dagger Awards ceremony in London.
Presenting Ann with her award, Martin Edwards, Chair of the CWA, said: "It's a lifetime achievement award, and above all it recognises excellence in writing. But it also recognises a significant contribution to the crime writing world. And nobody can deny that Ann Cleeves' contribution has been magnificent."
He went on to say that "You all know about the wonderful books, and you all know about the fantastically successful TV series. So, given that the recurring theme of this evening is friendship, I just want to say a few words about Ann the person," and praised Ann for her kindness and generosity to others, and as a passionate advocate of the library service.
In 2006 Ann was the first winner of the Duncan Lawrie Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of the year, for Raven Black, the first volume of her Shetland series. In addition, she has been short listed for CWA Dagger Awards, once for the short story dagger, and twice for the Dagger in the Library award which is awarded not for an individual book but for an author's entire body of work.
Ann says: "It's a huge honour to be recognized by my peers, the crime-writers whose books, friendship and support I've enjoyed for more than thirty years. I am privileged to have had such a happy career and I will always be grateful for the support of booksellers and forever indebted to the passion and expertise of librarians, without whom I wouldn't still be writing today."
Ann Cleeves says "Good short stories have a force and a clarity which it's almost impossible to achieve in a novel. That's why I enjoy reading them. I know that each word has been chosen with care.
"I don't send post cards when I travel; I write stories instead. The three pieces in the CWA anthologies bring back vivid memories of Tanzania, Finland and Alaska. Raven Black was originally conceived as another of those holiday snap stories."
In The Starlings and Other Stories, Ann has edited a collection of twelve short stories which are literally, if not snapshots, at least inspired by photographs. She has invited each of her fellow members of Murder Squad to bring in an accomplice, and write a short story inspired by the dramatic photography of Pembrokeshire-based author David Wilson. Ann's own contribution is the title story, The Starlings, featuring DI Vera Stanhope.
Read more about The Starlings and other short stories by Ann Cleeves.
Pan MacMillan's Bello imprint hunts down lost classics, and uses modern digital technology to make them available to readers as eBooks or print-on-demand paperbacks: over the summer they have quietly been releasing two previous series of detective novels by Ann Cleeves. The 'Inspector Ramsay' books feature a police officer who is like Ann's (and TV's) Vera Stanhope in being based in England's northernmost county, Northumberland - though unlike her in many other ways. Looking even further back, to the work of a very young writer, you can also now read the George & Molly books, the adventures of amateur sleuth George Palmer-Jones, an elderly birdwatcher - and his wife, Molly. (Or you might want to read what Ann would like to say to that younger self).
Two standalone novels are back in the bookshops in new paperback editions: The Sleeping and the Dead is a vivid psychological suspense novel the discovery of a body in the lake forces prison officer Hannah Morton to confront her past self; in Burial of Ghosts a holiday romance changes Lizzie's life forever.
"I do love Vera!"
In true Agatha Christie style, Cleeves once again pulls the wool over our eyes with cunning and conviction
A most satisfying mystery set in an isolated and intriguing location