White Nights, Ann Cleeves

White NightsShetland is an excellent TV series; one of my favourites. My interest in crime fiction was strongly influenced by it.

While watching the first series I was drawn to the  novels by Ann Cleeves upon which the series was based.

The TV version features Jimmy Perez, a detective whose life is complicated by a late-teen stepdaughter, Cassie.
One of the additional pleasures of Cleeves’ books is that they depict Perez when he first meets Cassie’s mother, Fran an artist, and Cassie is still a young girl. The two formats therefore cover a wider time period and because I saw the TV version first, the books seem to provide a backstory to the series.

White Nights starts with Perez’s first real date with Fran, at an exhibition of her art. That night out then leads to the discovery of a murder victim in shed near to the gallery.

This all happens mid-summer, within a period known in Shetland as the “simmer dim”, when the sun never really sets, resulting in a lingering half-light instead of a normal night darkness.

The thing I like most about this book is the depth of character, its vivid portrayal of landscape, and the journey it gives into Shetland life.

In my opinion, the richness throughout the book almost makes the concluding solution of the crime irrelevant. It’s not a book that puts all of its eggs into the “who-dunnit-basket”.

For me the resolution of a crime novel works best when the guilty party is revealed and the reader can then see how obvious that person’s guilt was – despite having not having seen it throughout the rest of the book. With White Nights, while  I found the conclusion plausible, I seem to have missed clues and reasoning  within the rest of the book, therefore for me it lacked that ultimate, satisfying, “of course, how could I have missed that” reaction.

 

Silent Voices

silent voicesAnn Cleeves is one of the authors responsible for starting my crime fiction interest.

She is also a significant reason that my interest has continued.

In Silent Voices, DCI Vera Stanhope finds that following her doctor’s health advice gives her a personal encounter with death.
After swimming for exercise in a local health club, she discovers a woman’s body in the steam room.

She opened her eyes and shot a jealous glance at the woman in the corner. The steam seemed less thick and Vera saw that she was middle-aged rather than elderly. Short curly hair, a plain blue costume. Slender, with long, shapely legs. Only then, as a hidden draught cleared the mist again, did Vera realize that her companion was too still and her skin too pale. The object of Vera’s envy was dead.

Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope and Shetland books deliver much more than intriguing page-turning criminal investigations; their main appeal to me is the way she develops her story and supports the plot through character and landscape.

I’m not a frequent re-reader of books, but I suspect I could easily return to Cleeves’ work at some time, even if the crime aspect would no longer be a mystery.

But until then I still have the pleasure ahead of me of reading most of them for the first time.

The Three Veras

I know some of this is going over ground I’ve written about before, but my relationship with the work of Ann Cleeves, and the TV dramas inspired by it is an ongoing experience.

My introduction to Cleeves was through the Shetland TV series. After seeing her name on the opening credits I decided to look for her books.

The first ones I found weren’t related to Shetland, but were from her other well-known series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope.

A book shop in Wagga Wagga had a full set of the Vera titles selling for half price, so I bought The Crow Trap, the first in the series.

I read the book quite quickly and enjoyed it enough to regret not buying copies of the others I’d seen in the Wagga shop.

Somehow I managed to justify another 3 hour round trip, during which I was able to buy the remaining half-price Vera books. Unfortunately they had none of the Shetland series.

veraThe saleswoman told me hadn’t read the books but she’d seen and loved the TV shows inspired by them, so I didn’t hesitate to buy a DVD box set of the series when I found one at a significantly reduced price only a week later.

I was disappointed with the first episode. It showed a lot of promise, but I found the ending unconvincing, confusing and rushing to a conclusion that didn’t live up to the preceding hour or so, or to the quality of Cleeves’ writing I’d read to that point. (At that stage I hadn’t read Hidden Depths, the book that particular episode was based upon, so couldn’t compare the TV adaptation with the book).

The next two episodes were based on Telling Tales and The Crow Trap, both of which I’d read prior to watching the DVDs – and again I found them disappointing. In these cases I found the stories had been cut and changed too much, and I felt there was only a slight resemblance to the books.

Things improved significantly when I got to the fourth and last episode of the first series. It had an original story instead of one supposedly adapted from a Cleeves’ book. I found that story gave a different Vera experience all together – the same character, brilliantly played by Brenda Blethyn, but with a much more convincing and satisfying story.

So far I’ve experienced three different Veras.

The first and by far the better of the three is the original, the Ann Cleeves book version.
The second was the disappointing TV version from the stories (very loosely) adapted from Ann Cleeves’ stories.
The third, and my second favourite, almost equal to the written version, has been the Vera of the TV episodes with original stories based on Ann Cleeves’ characters but not her novels.

 

The Costs and Pitfalls of Book Buying.

I have far too many books – and still I buy more.

When I develop a new reading interest, or a new interest in general, I’m not satisfied to dabble around the edges, I jump right in and obtain as much as possible related to that interest.

In recent years I became interested in some aspects of military history. At first I just wanted to find out why Anzac day was such a big deal in Australia. Like many Australians, my knowledge and understanding of the Gallipoli campaign at the heart of Anzac day was minimal. As the centenary of the original Anzac day (25th April) came around in 2015, I decided to put an end to my ignorance and I read several books about the campaign that attained mythic status in Australian culture.

From there my curiosity about other aspects of WWI was sparked, and my reading widened to other battles and their historical consequences.

But that wasn’t enough. I moved on to WWII when I discovered some family involvement in the North Africa and Sicily campaigns of 1943.
I was able to untie some of my dad’s tangled childhood memories to find the facts behind the tragic loss of his cousins Albert and Horace during those campaigns; even being able to track a report of Horace’s desperate cries for help, followed by the sound of his drowning, after his glider crashed into the Mediterranean.

I sought out and bought as many books as I could find that might increase my knowledge of Albert and Horace’s experiences of war. A lot of the books were out of print so I needed to track down second hand copies. A helpful resource was https://www.bookfinder.com/

Through that site I was able to find books covering my topics of interest that have been long out of print. Unfortunately some were outside of my comfortable price range, but most weren’t.

As I’ve written in several recent posts, my current interest is crime fiction, a very popular genre with far too many reading options. The only way I could realistically launch myself into reading crime was to find someway to limit those options. I chose to be selective with the authors I read.

So far I’ve followed two paths. Firstly there are the two authors who helped me get into the world of crime in the first place. I’ve already written about Lynda La Plante and Ann Cleeves.
Secondly, because my greater interest has been fuelled by the strength of character and place in Cleeves’ books, I looked around for British writers basing their work around Derbyshire, the English county where I spent my pre-teen years. I’ve also written quite a lot about the three writers I’ve been following.

To date Sarah Ward has three published books, Steven Dunne seven, and Stephen Booth at least seventeen. It would be a very costly exercise to get all of them, so when available I’ve helped the process through purchases from charity and second hand book shops, while keeping an eye on the prices of new books in online stores. Occasionally books will be discounted and a little money can be saved if I’m viewing the right site at the right time.

book list 2Ideally I’d be able to find all of the books at a local bookshop, giving them support instead of some overseas mega-store, but they rarely (if ever) have the kind of books I want, that cater to my sometimes obscure tastes (how many Australian readers are looking for Derbyshire crime writers?).

I now own all of Sarah Ward’s books.

I have the first three of Steven Dunne’s books. The first I could only find second hand online, the second I bought new and the third I also found second hand in a Canberra bookshop.

Stephen Booth’s books have been a mixture of new purchases from The Book Depository , Some from charity shops and two I bought online through the book finder address cited earlier. Those latter purchases have been examples of the perils faced when buying used goods on line. When I received the books they weren’t the editions that had been illustrated (they were older) and their actual condition didn’t match that of the written description on the website.
Bringing the problems to the attention of the supplier doesn’t always lead to the customer finding a satisfactory outcome.*

After two disappointing experiences, I’m now reconsidering the buying of second hand books online unless they are completely out of print and can’t be obtained any other way. In the recent cases I only resorted to the second hand orders because the number of books in the Stephen Booth series pushed the overall cost of new ones into uncomfortable territory, and I was eager to get his earlier books for an affordable prices as soon as possible.

At the moment those early books are some of the more expensive, unless I compromised by buying American editions. However an American version of a Derbyshire book, with American spellings and the possible “translating” of Derbyshire turns of phrase into Americanised approximations… well it kind of defeats my purpose of choosing Derbyshire based stories.**

I’m resisting the temptation to order more books for a while.  Over the Christmas break I could be away from home from time to time, so won’t be around to make sure any book deliveries are received securely.

Anyway, I have more than enough crime fiction to keep me going for a few weeks before I need to order again in the new year.

Apart from filling in some of the existing gaps in my collection, next year there will be at least two new books to look forward to: Sarah Wards fourth DC Childs book The Shrouded Path is due for release in the UK autumn, but before that will be The Devil’s Dice, the debut book by Roz Watkins released around March 2018.

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The image illustrating this post is part of the book list I keep in my wallet to help me keep track of what I already have so I don’t double up on any title.

*Although one bookseller went above and beyond my expectations to sustain their reputation for good service – sending me a book autographed by the author as a replacement for a copy that had been an ex-library book and was marred by stickers and ink stamps)

 

** To keep things in balance, I have no problem buying American editions of books by American authors, where American-English is in keeping with the authors intent.

From the Midlands to the North and then Further North Again.

This week I finished Sarah Ward’s A Deadly Thaw, and posted a review of it yesterday. I loved the book but not my review.

I’ve now started Hidden Depths by Ann Cleeves, and I can easily see how her work helped draw me into crime fiction. She has an exceptional talent for telling story through character and place.

The first episode of the Vera TV series was based on this book.
I saw it a few weeks ago and was disappointed. I later saw other episodes based on books I’d already read and found them disappointing too. They cut and changed the stories far too much and didn’t capture the heart of Cleeves’ books.

That all changed when the series moved on to original stories with the same characters. They work far better than the adaptations and I’ve enjoyed the few original stories that I’ve seen so far.

I’m now most of the way through Shetland series two, another drama based on Cleeves’ characters. The first season was all adapted from published books, and in my opinion they were far better than the Vera adaptations. While there are still considerable differences between book and TV show, the first Shetland series worked for me.

Like Vera, the second Shetland series moves into original story territory and so far it has me hooked. I have two episodes to go, so I can only hope that the quality is retained right up to the final story resolution.

After I started Hidden Depths, my copy of Sarah Ward’s third book, A Patient Fury arrived in the mail. If it had come a little earlier I think I would have jumped right into that book, continuing my Derbyshire journey with Detectives Sadler and Childs. However I know I still have that to look forward to – and then there will be a long wait for book four, currently being edited.

I still have another route available on that Derbyshire trip, with the second novel by Stephen Booth, Dancing With the Virgins waiting on my bookshelves. I enjoyed Black Dog , a book I wrote about at the beginning of November (here) and have since started to order his subsequent books.

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For more I’ve written on TV adaptations of Ann Cleeves’ books see here:
https://outshadows.wordpress.com/2017/11/02/ann-cleeves-book-and-screen/

Ann Cleeves: Book and Screen

It was the Shetland TV series that sent me in search of Ann Cleeves’ books.

However, the first I bought weren’t the Shetland stories but her Vera Stanhope series, some of which had also been adapted for TV as Vera, starring Brenda Blethyn.

telling-talesAfter reading some of those books I started watching episodes of the Vera TV series but was disappointed by  the differences between book and screen version.

This was most noticeable when I watched the TV adaptation of Telling Tales immediately after I finished the book. The book was still very fresh in my mind, so the changes made, and significant shortcuts taken, to condense it into a 90 minute TV episode were obvious and hindered my enjoyment of it as a story in its own right.

The first episodes of Vera that worked for me were those written specifically for the series and not adapted from a novel. They appeared more complete, not having the disadvantage of seeming like something important was missing from the story.

Raven Black was the first of the Shetland books I read.

It was after I saw the TV version but the reading experience wasn’t compromised by already knowing the story.
There are still significant differences. The TV show added characters and made changes to others, but most of the story itself remained intact.

Cleeves’ stories are strongly character driven. While murder is central to the plot,  the pleasure of reading (and watching) comes through the insights given into lives of the characters,  how they are shaped by their community, and vice versa.

Why Now? ( a more extensive venture into crime fiction)

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.

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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)

Brenda Blethyn from Beeline Films on Vimeo.