I've been doing some book reviews for 60 North Magazine (it promotes Shetland, and is well worth investigating), it's why I was reading so many herring related books in the spring, and one reason why I've been so immersed in textile books recently. It was also a prompt to read my first Ann Cleeves Shetland book, and that's been interesting.
I've been aware of this series since the first book 'Raven Black' came out. I have a friend who enjoys fairly brutal contemporary crime fiction at the end of a hard day who passed on a copy to me. I think she found it a bit sedate, I on the other hand prefer my crime fiction to be of the vintage whodunnit type, and didn't really click with Cleeves either to the point that I never quite got round to finishing the book.
'Cold Earth', which I've just finished is the seventh in a series that I think started out as a quartet. My copy is an uncorrected proof (it's not due for publication until October) so I'm not going to say much about it now (I will in October) but I thought I could talk about reading it.
I might not have read the rest of the series but I have watched the adaptations on television which has given me a superficial familiarity with the characters. What I've very quickly realised is that the TV version of 'Shetland' is a very loose adaptation indeed of Cleeves original books, I also knew that she hadn't had any hand in the last series (the best so far purely because it was given 6 episodes to unfold in, instead of being crammed into a couple of hours as the earlier ones had been) so that was somewhat disorienting.
It also makes me wonder how a writer deals with her characters, along with their world, being taken out of her hands and developed along somewhat different lines. There is nothing in this book that suggests to me that the TV version has crept into it, but because I'm more familiar with the TV version reading this book felt oddly like watching it.
That might also be because I'm familiar with the landscape and weather that Cleeves describes, when she mentions actual places they're often places I know (if you've read the books and visit the islands you can't miss a lot of her locations). More than that, as Cleeves has been familiar with Shetland for something like 40 years she also understands how it's changing, and I think she's caught the current moment in its history brilliantly here.
She's said in the past that she treats the landscape as a background rather than a character, being more interested in the dynamics of the community and how life works on relatively isolated islands. That's certainly bourn out by what I've read here - the complicated family relationships, communities where everyone knows each other, the growing number of incomers to the islands, and the way secrets are kept in a place where there isn't neccesarily much privacy. I do think she uses the weather as a character though, and that's something I found interesting too. This book is set in February which is very much still winter, with a few days that suggest spring. The wind is a constant physical presence (I had a real reminder of that when I was home this summer) as is the dark, and the rain, and that more than anything evoked the absolute spirit of Shetland for me.
So will I go back and read the rest of the series? Maybe. I enjoyed this one and it's certainly made me more curious about them. Cleeves doesn't go in for gory details (I'm not much of a fan of gore or gruesome ways of killing people) but police procedurals still aren't really my thing. If I found one on a bookshelf somewhere I was staying I'd definitely read it, as to picking one up in a bookshop - I guess I'll have to wait and see.