Saturday, October 22, 2016

Cold Earth - Ann Cleeves

For no very good reason I've not (yet) really read Ann Cleeves Shetland books (three quarters of 'Raven Black' and now 'Cold Earth' don't really count). It's a long time since I started reading 'Raven Black' so I'm not sure quite why I didn't click with it. I think it might have been because the Shetland that Cleeves described was an unsettling mix of families and different to the one I know which became distracting.

After reading 'Cold Earth' I'm inclined to go back and start at the beginning though (maybe when I get the mountain of books staring at me from across the room is a little bit more under control - so it could be a while) more especially because I've enjoyed the TV series - though I'm well aware it's quite different to the books.

Back in the book... It's a cold wet February day, And Jimmy Perez is at a funeral. It's Magnus Tait's burial to be precise (first met as the main suspect in 'Raven Black') and the inevitable reflections are abruptly cut off by a landslide ripping the place apart. In the aftermath Perez spots a scrap of scarlet against the wall of a devastated house, then finds the body of a dark haired woman that no one seems to know.

He becomes increasingly obsessed with finding out who she was, and when it becomes clear that her death was no accident, who murdered her. There's also a burgeoning relationship with superior officer, Willow Reeves, to balance with his responsibilities as a single father, and as the rain continues - the danger of another land slip.

Cleeve's familiarity with Shetland really comes through, which is no surprise. She's been visiting for over 40 years, and gets the landscape, and more importantly the weather, right. It must be a gift to a crime writer to have somewhere with such erratic mobile phone signal and weather that can suddenly close the islands off from the mainland for days at a time. It sets the scene for a community where people have to depend on each other to get through the dark days of winter. Where strangers are rare, or stand out, amongst extended family and old connections, and where keeping secrets is a serious business. The bad weather gives the book a slightly claustrophobic edge too - what would it be like to sit at home during those long hours of darkness, listening to the wind and rain, and wondering who might get bumped off next?

Cleeves has also caught the changing nature of the community; The older generation encountered in the first books are slipping away, she notes the number of different accents to be found in the islands - a legacy of gas and oil employment. The tension between a transient workforce living in flotels and other temporary accommodations against a settled community that will still be there when they're gone - and the uneasy sense that the good times bought by the oil money may be on the way out put big question marks up against the future. That she is documenting those changes is the main reason I'd like to go back and read the whole series - I think these books might be even more interesting with hindsight.

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