Shetland's back on TV!
Shetland series 4 nears its gripping conclusion, on BBC1 on Tuesday evenings. It's a single gripping tale, told in six parts, with the final installment due for broadcast on Tuesday 20th March. If you haven't been following it so far, Episodes 1 to 5 are available on the iPlayer, you there's just time to binge-watch before all is revealed! Shetland is based on the characters and setting of Ann Cleeves's award-winning novels, but the story is an original one, in which Jimmy Perez must deal with murders from the past and present - which have unsettling similarities.
Douglas Henshall returns as DI Jimmy Perez, with Alison O'Donnell and Shetlander Steven Robertson (recently seen in VERA!) as his fellow-officers, plus Mark Bonnar and Julie Graham alongside new faces, filming on location in Shetland, Glasgow and Norway. Steven Robertson talked to the Herald about the show, and about growing up in Shetland.
VERA: a successor to Poirot
Crime writer Ann Cleeves has won many awards, and great popular acclaim, for her books, among them those featuring her unorthodox but brilliant detective DCI Vera Stanhope. On TV, Vera is played by the wonderful Brenda Blethyn, and in April Ann will be 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!
Now is the time to catch up with that performance, in the latest - the - eighth series of VERA. In the UK, Series 8 is now available on DVD. This is (initially, at least) only in Region 2 format: but US viewers can watch the whole series on BritBox or via Amazon.com.
And there's more good news: Brenda Blethyn has confirmed there will be a ninth series!
VERA, the books
The latest book by award winning crime writer Ann Cleeves also features her unorthodox but brilliant detective DCI Vera Stanhope. The Seagull is the eighth case for Vera, and 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 the UK - and US readers don't miss out, because you have a new edition of Hidden Depths to catch up with!
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."
Cold Earth, the seventh in Ann's award winning series of Shetland mysteries, is now available in the US, and is out in the UK in paperback. It marks not only the continuation of a popular and much-praised series, but also Ann's thirtieth book in 30 years! The story opens as Jimmy Perez attends the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait: but torrential rain triggers a landslide that reveals a totally unexpected body that of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. Her identity is a mystery Jimmy becomes obsessed with solving: perhaps it can help the dark-haired Fair Islander resolve some mysteries of his own.
Mark Lawson chose Cold Earth as one of his best crime books of the year, and called Ann "the best living evoker of landscape". It was also longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize (formerly the Scottish Crime Book of the Year).
"One of the most memorable entries in the series."
Barry Forshaw, FT
Read what Ann told The Sydney Morning Herald about Cold Earth.
In the Press
Ann talked to The Independent about where she found the initial ideas for The Moth Catcher - and what crime novels she enjoys - and doesn't enjoy! - reading. Meanwhile, in The Guardian she offers a short guide to Vera's Northumberland: read what she has to say about Amble, and compare her descriptions of Mardle, the setting for Harbour Street!
"I do love Vera!"
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.
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