Cleeves, Ann 1954–
Cleeves, Ann 1954–
Born October 24, 1954, in Hereford, England; married Tim Cleeves, 1977; children: two daughters. Education: Liverpool University, diploma, 1979.
Home—Holywell, Whitley Bay, Northumberland, England. Agent—Sara Menguc, 58 Thorkhill Rd., Thames Ditton, Surrey KT7 0UG, England. E-mail—[email protected]
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 inWirral and Cheshire, England, 1981-83.
Royal Television Society Award, for film Catching Birds; Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award, 2006, for Raven Black.
The Sleeping and the Dead, Macmillan (London, England), 2002.
Burial of Ghosts, Macmillan (London, England), 2003.
"PALMER-JONES" SERIES; CRIME NOVELS
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.
"RAMSAY" SERIES; CRIME NOVELS
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.
"STANHOPE" SERIES; CRIME NOVELS
The Crow Trap, Macmillan (London, England), 1999.
Telling Tales, Macmillan (London, England), 2005.
Hidden Depths, Macmillan (London, England), 2007.
"SHETLAND ISLAND" QUARTET; CRIME NOVELS
Raven Black, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2007.
White Nights, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2008.
Author of Catching Birds, a short film for Border TV.
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 several series detectives. One of them, George 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 birdwatchers, some of whom are willing to travel any distance at a moment's notice to encounter a rare breed. Such enthusiasm amounts to obsession, writes the author: 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, and 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 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 a murder investigation. Her young sister-in-law dies during the bride's wedding feast, and a second murder victim is found soon after 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 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."
"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."
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 life 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 center, where the female lead in a youth theater production is found murdered. Teenage joyriding and ram-raiding contribute to the pattern. And The Healers brings Ramsay into contact with New Age travelers and a center for alternative healing. A motive for murder arises from a therapeutic session: the ambience serves the action. The Baby Snatcher brings Ramsay to the remote coastal village of the Headland, where he is drawn into a mysterious web of child abduction and murder.
The apparent suicide of Bella Furness brings Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope to Baikie's Cottage in the remote North Pennine hills in The Crow Trap. Bella's body has been found by Rachel Lambert, leader of an environmental research team that includes two other women, all of whom carry emotional baggage. Stanhope, Cleeves explained in an interview for Shots, is an enjoyable character to write about. "She developed because I was so cross with even feminist writers writing female characters who were young, fit and beautiful. Vera isn't any of those things. She's over weight and middle-aged. She regrets never having married or having had children."
Indeed, Cleeves found Vera so interesting that, despite having planned The Crow Trap as a stand-alone novel, she eventually wrote two sequels to that novel. Telling Tales finds Vera in East Yorkshire to investigate a ten-year-old murder case. Jeanie Long had been convicted of killing a teenage girl and was sent to prison. Though new evidence proves her innocence, it comes too late for Jeanie, who commits suicide in her prison cell. Worried that the real killer is still at large, the community grows even more fearful when another body turns up—and it is up to Vera to find the culprit before more blood is shed.
In Hidden Depths, Vera tries to find the connection between two apparently random murders. Luke Armstrong is found strangled, laid out carefully in a bathtub of water with flowers around the body. When a second body—that of teacher Lily Marsh—is discovered in a rock pool with flowers strewn on the water, Vera knows that she must discover what links these two victims before the killer strikes again.
Cleeves followed the "Stanhope" series with the "Shetland Island" quartet. Raven Black, the series opener, explores the sinister secrets of Shetland Island residents as they come to grips with the murder of local teenager Catherine Ross. Magnus Tait, an unpopular loner, is the villagers' chief suspect, but police detective Jimmy Perez is not so quick to conclude that Tait is the killer. Emily Melton, writing in Booklist, called the novel a "dark, brutal, suspenseful page-turner," while a writer for Publishers Weekly described it as a "taut, atmospheric thriller" with a truly shocking conclusion. Raven Black was the first winner of the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award.
White Nights, the second title in the series, finds Perez investigating the bizarre death of an Englishman who crashes an art gallery opening, claiming loudly that he doesn't know who he is or where he is from, only to be found hanged the next morning.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, May 1, 2007, Emily Melton, review of Raven Black, p. 20.
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; April 30, 2007, review of Raven Black, p. 136.
Times Literary Supplement, February 24, 2006, Natasha Cooper, review of Raven Black, p. 21; March 23, 2007, Patricia Craig, review of Hidden Depths, p. 23.
Ann Cleeves Home Page,http://www.anncleeves.com/ (June 3, 2008).
Euro Crime,http://www.eurocrime.co.uk/ (June 3, 2008), Sunnie Gill, review of Raven Black; Maxine Clarke, review of Raven Black.
Shots,http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/ (June 3, 2008), interview with Ann Cleeves.
Time Warner Web site,http://www.twbooks.co.uk/ (November 3, 2003), profile of Cleeves.