ANNA CREER reviews new novels from the queens of crime writing, Ann Cleaves and Val McDermid.
Multi-award-winning crime writer Ann Cleeves needs little introduction because of her famous detectives, Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez in Vera and Shetland, the TV adaptations of her novels.
Cleeves was recognised as the modern Queen of Crime in 2017, when she was awarded the highest accolade in British crime writing, the CWA Diamond Dagger.
Presenting the award, Martin Edwards, chair of the CWA said: “ It’s a lifetime achievement award and above all it recognises excellence in writing. But it also recognises a significant contribution to the crime-writing world. And nobody can deny that Anne Cleeves’ contribution has been magnificent”.
In 2019, Cleeves introduced a new detective, in another distinctive setting, in The Long Call. The Raging Storm is the third in the series.
Detective Inspector Matthew Venn lives in North Devon, where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet, with his husband, Jonathan. He leads a small team of detectives who operate out of Barnstaple, the main town in the area.
Venn is “a man of principle, still haunted by a strict evangelical childhood”. He has been expelled from the Barum Brethren after he denounced his faith and “joined the police force because it provided the sense of duty and community that he missed”. He’s a man who likes to be “in control of an investigation, in control of himself”.
The Raging Storm opens with Jem Rosco, “adventurer, sailor and legend”, arriving in the pub in the small north Devon village of Greystone, at the height of a September gale. He has rented one of the cottages up the hill behind the pub, telling the locals he’s here to meet someone special.
Rosco is a TV celebrity who has shared his travels up the Amazon and sailing single-handed around the world. When he disappears, the villagers believe he has set off on his travels again, until the lifeboat is called out in a gale and discovers his naked body in a dinghy off Scully Cove.
When Venn arrives with his team to investigate, he remembers visiting the Barum Brethren community in Greystone as a child and being happy “showing off his bible knowledge and faith”. But the present day Brethren close ranks and hinder Venn’s investigation, protecting each other and hiding the truth about jealousies in the past.
In The Raging Storm, Cleeves once again reveals her talents as a storyteller and a perceptive observer of human nature. Unfortunately, Cleeves’ “controlled” detective Venn isn’t as appealing as either Vera or Jimmy Perez.
AWARD-winning Scottish crime writer Val McDermid, the creator of Tartan Noir, can certainly challenge Cleeves for the title of Queen of Crime.
McDermid has also been awarded the Diamond Dagger by the CWA in recognition of her lifetime achievement as a crime writer, as well as receiving the Theakston’s Old Peculiar award for an Outstanding Contribution to Crime Writing.
McDermid’s novels have also been adapted for TV and radio, most notably the Wire in the Blood series featuring DCI Carol Jordan and clinical psychologist Dr Tony Hill and, more recently, Karen Pirie, based on her novels featuring Detective Inspector Karen Pirie, of the Scottish Historic Crimes Unit.
Past Lying is the seventh novel in the Karen Pirie series, set firmly in the time of covid. April 2020 and Edinburgh is in lockdown. The streets are quiet, “it was like the zombie apocalypse without the zombies”.
Detective Chief inspector Karen Pirie, is living in a “bubble” with her sergeant, Daisy Mortimer. Pirie misses her work because in lockdown there are no active cold cases to occupy them. “Right now she was languishing for the lack of something meaningful to investigate and it didn’t suit her”.
Therefore, when the unit is contacted by Meera Reddy, a librarian at the National Library of Scotland, about an unpublished manuscript, The Vanishing of Laurel Oliver in the papers of the recently deceased crime writer, Jake Stein, Karen and her team know they have a case to investigate.
Lara Hardie, an Edinburgh University student, had vanished a year ago. Meera thinks Stein’s manuscript is “a blueprint or a kind of explanation for what happened to Lara Hardie”. In fact Jake Stein appears to be confessing he murdered Lara in an act of revenge against his friend and fellow crime writer Ross McEwen.
In Past Lying, McDermid not only constructs a complex and intriguing story but also highlights ironically how transitory fame as a crime writer can be.
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