I’m approaching 60. I’ve been an avid reader since I was 5 years old, and half a lifetime ago, as a “mature-aged student”, I completed a BA degree in English literature and creative writing.
And yet, for some reason, only now do I find myself intentionally reading “crime fiction” – something that’s not really interested me before (apart from a short period in my 20s when I read a few Agatha Christies).
This interest seems to have started when a few weeks ago I watched Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect 1973 on TV. My motivation for watching had more to do with the “1973” than the “Prime Suspect” part of the title, but I got hooked on more than the 70s ambience of my youth.
Around the same time, for similar reasons I started watching the series Shetland, based on books by Ann Cleeve, fortunately catching it from the beginning.
While I’ve never been to the Shetlands, I’ve had a long lasting love of traditional fiddle music, and many years ago bought a CD of Shetland fiddle tunes. Again, while initially drawn by the potential ambience, I was hooked by the story and have watched all episodes screened to date on my local channel.
During the past two weeks I’ve bought or ordered most of the Shetland books, and all of another series by Cleeves, featuring Vera Stanhope. Those books have also been adapted for a TV series, Vera starring Brenda Blethyn.
I’m now halfway through Telling Tales, the second Vera Stanhope story after finishing the first, The Crow Trap in just two days.
I like the way Cleeves builds up the stories, using alternating points of view of the characters involved. Also the fact that the lead character (Stanhope) often remains in the background; although she always seems present, even when she’s not in a scene.
I still have a lot of potential pleasure ahead with so much more to read, but face the difficult choice between sticking with Vera Stanhope, or moving on to a volume of the Shetland series next.
At first I wondered whether watching the TV series would spoil my reading of the corresponding books (or vice versa). I haven’t found out for sure yet, but I suspect the extra richness of the books will make up for the inevitable “spoilers” revealed by the TV show. I’ll find an answer when I finish the book I’m currently reading now. Telling Tales is the next episode of Vera that I’ll be watching. I’m delaying my viewing of it until after I finish the book.
Along with Cleeves’ books I’ve also followed up that Lynda La Plante influence, her books follow a much grittier, seedier, urban path contrasting with the more rural settings of the Shetland and Vera Stanhope books.
La Plante is much more graphic in the detail of the murders at the centre of her books. In the two I’ve read so far (Above Suspicion and The Red Dahlia), La Plante’s story telling has been much more linear than that of Cleeves and her investigating police have been the focal characters, with less attention paid to the points of view of other characters.
These two books are part of the Anna Travis series, and while the storytelling is compelling, there is a degree of “sameness” between the books, with sociopathic, misogynist men being the perpetrators of exceptionally brutal murders of women, while being able to hide behind the respectable standing they hold within the community at large.
These two very different authors offer widely contrasting reading experiences. La Plante gives a page turning rollercoaster ride though territory most us would never experience, compared to Cleeves’ more leisurely but no less compelling journey into more familiar parts of everyday society.
La Plante gives us serial killers, or others who kill for extremely nefarious reasons. Cleeves brings along the man or woman next door, with more down to earth and practical (even domestic?) motives for killing, more in keeping with the statistical fact that 80% of murderers were know by their victim.
Note: the above was written from my own introductory experience of the work of these two writers and the TV adaptations of some of their work. The views I express therefore don’t necessarily convey a true and complete picture of all of their work.
Brenda Blethyn (TVs Vera) reading an excerpt from Harbour Street (a Vera Stanhope story by Ann Cleeves)