Cleeves, Ann 1954-

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CLEEVES, Ann 1954-


Born October 24, 1954, in Hereford, England; married Tim Cleeves, 1977; children: two daughters. Education: Liverpool University, diploma (social work), 1979.


Home—19 Holywell Dene Rd., Holywell, Whitley Bay, Northumberland NE25 OLB, England. Agent—Murray Pollinger, 222 Old Brompton Rd., London SW5 OBZ, England.


Writer. Camden Social Services, London, England, child care officer, 1973-75; bird observatory cook on Fair Isle, Scotland, 1975-76; in auxiliary coastguard, 1977-81; probation officer in Wirral and Cheshire, England, 1981-83.


The Sleeping and the Dead, Macmillan (London, England), 2002.

Burial of Ghosts, Macmillan (London, England), 2003.


A Bird in the Hand, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1986.

Come Death and High Water, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1987.

Murder in Paradise, Century (London, England), 1988, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1989.

A Prey to Murder, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1989.

Sea Fever, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1991.

Another Man's Poison, Macmillan (London, England), 1992, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1993.

The Mill on the Shore, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1994.

High Island Blues, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1996.


A Lesson in Dying, Century (London, England), 1990.

Murder in My Back Yard, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1991.

A Day in the Death of Dorothea Cassidy, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1992.

Killjoy, Macmillan (London, England), 1993, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1995.

The Healers, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1995.

The Baby Snatcher, Macmillan (London, England), 1997.


English writer Ann Cleeves has established a reputation as a significant talent in the field of the traditional detective novel. She is the creator of two series detectives: George Palmer-Jones and Stephen Ramsay. Palmer-Jones is a retired Home Office official married to a former social worker. His natural authority is augmented by his professional past and the reputation persisting from it, yet, he suffers from self-doubt and is subject to depression. He finds difficulty in adjusting to retirement and misses the structure and discipline of professional life. Eventually, he establishes an "advice agency" for the families of missing teenagers.

It is Palmer-Jones's secondary reputation as a seasoned ornithologist that involves him in crime, however. In A Bird in the Hand he joins a community of bird-watchers, some of whom are willing to travel any distance at a moment's notice to encounter a rare breed. Such enthusiasm amounts to obsession, a force sufficiently strong to turn a man's mind, to "alter mood, sense, even personality, like a drug." When a murder is discovered, he must consider whether it also has "the power to make a person mad enough to commit murder." The victim's influence was strong in the birding community and his complex personality takes shape as the action proceeds. Enmities surface, associations breed suspicion: one man was the victim's rival in love, another sought the same job, a third lost status by his ascendancy. A revealing slant on the victim determines a part of the truth and a rare bird contributes to the final resolution of the novel.

Come Death and High Water opens in classic style as a number of people prepare to gather at a nature reserve off the Devon coast. No sooner are they assembled than the owner of the island announces his intention to sell out: not surprisingly, he is dead by the following morning. Suspicion spreads impartially through the company and a second murder contracts the closed circle even further. Murder in Paradise takes Palmer-Jones to the remote island of Kinness, part of the western isles of Scotland. The closed community opens to admit a bride from the mainland and she becomes a principal witness both of life on the island and of the course of the murder investigation. Her young sister-in-law dies during the bride's wedding feast and a second murder victim is found soon enjoying Palmer-Jones's hospitality. The bride and Palmer-Jones gather such clues as an inscription on a gravestone, the dispositions of a will, and the odd maturity of a small boy.

A Prey to Murder is set in and around a Shropshire hotel where the owner, a small-scale matriarch, dies by violence. Her murder seems to be the terrible consequence of an illicit trade in birds of prey. Much of the investigation is conducted by an ebullient Welsh policeman, with Palmer-Jones rather uncomfortably in tow. Palmer-Jones's wife Molly makes her own enquiries at the hotel, and it is she who provokes the novel's violent climax. Molly's relationship with Palmer-Jones undergoes some stress during the story and is sufficient to threaten their marriage but not permanently injure it.

In in Another Man's Poison Palmer-Jones and Molly investigate the murder of Molly's Aunt Ursula, who is discovered dead when they arrive at her Lake District home. Other murders involve the disappearance of a birdwatcher from a Cornish boat chartered for viewing seabirds in Sea Fever; the supposed suicide of a celebrated naturalist at a coastal "college of the countryside" in The Mill on the Shore; and the murder of a birdwatcher involved in raising funds for a fake environmental group in High Island Blues. Of this last book featuring Palmer-Jones and his wife, a Publishers Weekly contributor praised Cleeves's descriptions of the "rugged countryside as spectacular bird-watching country," adding that while the "earnestness" of the birdwatchers is "interesting" and the husband-and-wife team is "convincing," the supporting characters seem "less original."

Cleeves's A Lesson in Dying introduces Inspector Stephen Ramsay, an impulsive, even reckless policeman who is disliked by his colleagues and prone to serious error. He investigates the murder of a blackmailer in a Northumberland village, disregarding those who had reason to wish the victim dead and arresting instead the victim's innocent wife, with disastrous consequences. Ramsay's later career is more reassuring: he stabilizes his personal life, improves his relations with his colleagues, and avoids further headstrong error. In Murder in My Back Yard he investigates murder close to home; the title derives from the "Not in My Back Yard" syndrome whereby politicians, supportive of destructive development elsewhere, protest when their own neighborhoods are under threat. The victim is a woman who sold the land on which new buildings are due to be constructed.

A Day in the Death of Dorothea Cassidy involves Ramsay in the reconstruction of the last day in the live of a vicar's wife, an assiduous do-gooder who was daunting in her busy benevolence. The suspects in her murder include Cassidy's stepson and his girlfriend, a dying widow, an alcoholic, and a social worker. Killjoy is based in a Tyneside arts centre, where the female lead in a youth theatre production is found murdered. Teenage joy-riding and ram-raiding contribute to the pattern. And The Healers brings Ramsay into contact with New Age travelers and a centre for alternative healing. A motive for murder arises from a therapeutic session: the ambience serves the action.

"Detail is very important in detective fiction," Cleeves once commented. "In natural history it's crucial. George Palmer-Jones is an amateur ornithologist with an eye for detail who works with his wife, Molly, to solve crimes which have a background in natural history. The series started because I was fascinated by the obsession of birdwatchers. It moved on to consider serious conservation issues like the theft of birds of prey and river pollution. The main characters have recently retired from careers in public service. Throughout their marriage they have been too busy to spend much time together. Now, in retirement, they have to adapt to being a couple again and I enjoy the tension that situation brings. A Lesson in Dying begins a new series set firmly in my home county of Northumberland. Like many southerners I was immediately attracted by the dramatic landscape and the tight, traditional communities. I hope to continue both series."



St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1991, review of Sea Fever, p. 73; February 3, 1992, review of A Day in the Death of Dorothea Cassidy, p. 75; May 20, 1996, review of High Island Blues, p. 255.*


Time Warner Web site, (November 3, 2003), profile of Cleeves.*