Thursday, 31 January 2008

Island murders

I’ve never visited the Shetland Islands, but reading Ann Cleeves’ breakthrough novel Raven Black made me want to. It was the first book I’d ever read about Shetland and it made a great impression on me. Now, there’s a positive flurry of Shetland-based crime novels. Ann’s follow-up novel, White Nights is due out soon. Meanwhile, there’s a new author to look out for She is S.J. Bolton, whose debut novel Sacrifice is also set on Shetland.

Sacrifice looks as though it may venture into territory occupied by one of my favourite horror films, The Wicker Man. The author says she is fascinated with British traditional folklore, and the story is apparently based on an eerie Shetland legend, about the story of the ‘Kunal Trows’ of the most northerly Shetland island, Unst. It’s high on my to-read list.

White Nights is right at the top of that list, after the success of Raven Black. Ann’s a fellow member of Murder Squad who has been writing thoroughly enjoyable mysteries for about twenty years, but her career received a real fillip when Raven Black won the CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger for best novel of 2006. The book combines atmospheric writing (the traditional fire festival Up Helly Ya provides a vivid backdrop to the latter stages of the book) with a neat plot and an engaging detective, Jimmy Perez. Originally Ann conceived the novel as a one-off, but its popularity prompted her to sign a contract to write three more Shetland books, one for each season of the year. Quite apart from good sales in this country, the award of the Dagger has raised her profile overseas, and she’s now a best-seller in Scandinavia, in addition to have signed deals to publish in a variety of other countries around the globe.

The Shetland setting, I think, is probably the feature that caused this particular novel to achieve more recognition than its predecessors, even though such books as The Sleeping and the Dead really are very good indeed. There’s something fascinating about islands, and they do make excellent settings for crime novels (think And Then There Were None and P.D. James’ The Lighthouse.) Maybe island magic will work wonders for S.J. Bolton’s career too.


8 comments:

Kerrie said...

RAVEN BLACK was among my top reads in 2006, Martin, and is one of only two books that have scored the maximum of 5 on oz_mystery_readers. The other was DIAMOND DOVE by Adrian Hyland. RAVEN BLACK sent me searching for other books by Ann Cleeves. I love her Vera Stanhope titles.

Juliet said...

Raven Black just added to this island-lover's next Amazon order!

Martin Edwards said...

Kerrie, I'm a Vera Stanhope fan too. Vera was never intended as a series character, but Ann decided eventually to bring her back, and I'm very glad she did.

Euro Crime said...

When (library) borrowers ask me for a really good crime novel. I always check the shelves for Raven Black and of course The Coffin Trail :-). In fact I've just started ordering audio books for a housebound borrower and she's getting both of those titles straight away!

Petrona said...

I very much enjoyed Raven Black also, having been sent a review copy which I read and wrote up for Euro Crime. Clearly, I must read some more by this author.

The book you mention, by S. J. Bolton, sounds really good as well -- one for my groaning Amazon basket!

Martin Edwards said...

Although Ann's been a friend for years, I can honestly say that I read, reviewed and enjoyed her books before we ever met. Her ability to describe the rural environment so well is something that has influenced my approach to the Lakes books. Even though there are numerous differences between us as writers, it does please me when our books are bracketed together.

Kerrie said...

A review copy of SACRIFICE was waiting in the post for me when I got home tonight. Released here in Oz lat November.
This week I also got a copy of P.D.Martin's latest release, FAN MAIL. She's an Australian author (if you've never caught up with her) and this is her third book. Best to read them in order if you can - BODY COUNT, THE MURDERER'S CLUB, then FAN MAIL

Kerrie said...

Revise that release date. I read the paperwork. Due for Australian release on Mar 3, 2008