White Nights by Ann Cleeves: a Book Review

White Nights by Ann Cleeves is the second in her Shetland Quartet, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. The first book is Raven Black, which I read and wrote about last year. I enjoyed this one just as much as the first and, although I think it stands well on its own, I think it best to read them in order as some of the characters appear in both and you can follow the development of their relationships.

White Nights is set mainly in Biddista, a fictional village of a few houses, a shop, an art gallery and restaurant called the Herring House, and an old Manse. Kenny Thomson finds a man’s body hanging in the hut where the boat owners of the village of Biddista keep their lines and pots. Perez recognises the dead man – he’s the mystery man who had caused a scene the previous evening at the opening of Bella Sinclair’s and Fran Hunter’s art exhibition. At first it looks as though the man, his face covered by a clown’s mask, has committed suicide, but he’d been dead before he was strung up and the murder team from Inverness, headed up by Roy Taylor, are called in. It takes quite some time before they can identify the dead man and even longer before the motive for killing him is revealed. And that is only after more deaths have occurred.

This is a most satisfying book for me. It’s not only full of believable characters, each one an individual in their own right, it also has a nicely complicated plot and a great sense of location. As well as the mystery of who killed the man in the clown mask and why, there is also the disappearance 15 years earlier of Kenny’s older brother Lawrence. It was thought that he left the island after Bella had broken his heart. Kenny hadn’t heard from him since and at first thought the dead man could be him.

It’s the place, itself, that for me conveyed the most powerful aspects of the book. The ‘white nights’ are the summer nights when the sun never really goes down. They call it the ‘summer dim’, the dusk lasts all night, and in contrast to the bleak, black winters, fills people with ‘a kind of frenzy‘. The landscape and the climate certainly play a great part in people’s lives.Taylor feels very much an outsider, almost too impatient to cope with what he thinks is Perez’s hesitant approach, until it occurred to him that

here in this bizarre, bleak, treeless community, Perez’s strange methods might actually get results. (page 263)

However, I did think that the ending came rather suddenly after the careful build up to the mystery. The tension just gradually faded away as it became obvious who the culprit was. But I still think it’s a very good book, that held my interest, one that made me want to get back to it each time I had to put it down.

This book was an excellent choice for my project, Britain in Books, of reading my way through the British Isles. I could see the landscape and the sea, and I could hear the birds, the kittiwakes on the cliffs, the puffins and skuas. The Shetland Islands are part of theBritish Isles, but are so far north of the mainland that they are on about the same latitude as the southern point of Greenland. I’ve included a map of the Islands (click image to enlarge) and for a more detailed map showing the locations of the Shetland Quartet see Ann Cleeves’s website. There is more information on Shetland at Shetlopedia.

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Pan (5 Jun 2009)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0330448250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330448253
  • Source: Library Book
  • My Rating: 4/5

The other books in the Shetland Quartet are:

Saturday Snapshot: Bridges on the Tyne

Every now and then we go to Newcastle upon Tyne, usually only managing to go round the shops, but on Tuesday we decided to see a bit more of the city.

Even though it was a grey, misty day (as these photos, taken in the early afternoon, show) we decided to have a look at the River Tyne. The river is crossed by several bridges and went to the High Level Bridge, designed by  Robert Stephenson and built between 1847 and 1849. It’s a road and railway bridge. Below is the view of the pedestrian/road crossing below the railway line.

From this bridge we could see more bridges crossing the river. Below is the view of the Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge between Newcastle and the Gateshead Metro Centre :

We walked about halfway across the bridge to see more bridges  across the river. The photo below shows the Swing Bridge (red and white) and the Tyne Bridge, in the centre with The Sage, an international music centre in the background:

East of  the Tyne Bridge is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge (white):

Standing on the High Level Bridge, my eye was caught by this statue on the top of a building below:

This is King Neptune with two fishwives seated on both sides. This was the old fish market, erected in 1880.

Saturday Snapshot post, hosted by Alyce, At Home with Books.

Book Beginnings: Westwood by Stella Gibbons

One of the books I’m currently reading is Westwood by Stella Gibbons. It begins:

London was beautiful that summer. In the poor streets the people made an open-air life for themselves under the blue sky as if they were living in a warmer climate. Old men sat on the fallen masonry and smoked their pipes and talked about the war, while women stood patiently in the shops or round the stalls selling large fresh vegetables, ceaselessly talking. (page 1)

Written in 1946 this is set in wartime London, just after the Blitz. In the next paragraphs the ruins of bombed houses are described surrounded by deep pools of water (from the fire-fighters), ducks on the pools, willow-herb growing where houses once stood, foxes raiding gardens, a hawk flying over the city –

London in ruin was beautiful as a city in a dream. (page 2)

I love the way Gibbons sets the scene, showing the effects of war. It’s a novel about ordinary people and what it was like to live then, during the war. I haven’t read much further on and I’m hoping it will live up to its opening.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages.

Britain in Books

A few days ago Cath at Read Warbler wrote about doing her own personal USA Challenge, which got me thinking about doing something similar but based in Britain. I love books with a strong sense of location so it seemed quite straightforward – I’d read books set in Britain.

Then I realised it’s not as simple as that – how was I going to decide on the locations? For centuries the people of the British Isles have been discussing, debating and even fighting over how we should divide up the land. Now, I don’t want to get into politics (I’m not saying anything about moves from different sections of our community for ‘independence’), so I thought I’d focus around our counties.

Again not simple. At first I thought I’d use the current local administrative areas, forgetting all the reorganisation that seems to be always on the go! How could I have forgotten after working for over 20+ years in local government! It’s not only the physical areas that keep being tinkered with but also the names of our counties. It’s  complicated and confusing. Eventually I came round to the idea of using the Historic Counties of the United Kingdom – there are 92. With so many counties, I’m making this an open ended project, because I shan’t be restricting my reading to just British books, by any means.

Map source: The Association of British Counties

I’ll read fiction in different genres, I’ll stray into poetry and drama occasionally and I’ll also include non-fiction – history, travel, diaries, biographies and so on. As well as focusing on the counties I’m also going to include regional books and books about the four countries that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, not forgetting the surrounding islands.

I shall most likely expand/adapt this project and I plan to make a separate page on this blog to record my progress.

I’m not waiting until next year to start – I’m beginning now, in the far north, in the Shetland Isles reading White Nights by Ann Cleeves.

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris: a Book Review

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris is a cleverly told story, narrated by Harriet Baxter, alternating between events in 1888-90 (in Glasgow) and those in 1933 (in London). In 1888 Harriet moved to Glasgow where she got to know the painter, Ned Gillespie and his family. At first I liked Harriet but as I read on I became increasingly doubtful about her character, even though she comes across as an honest, reliable person. But, as she relates what her life is like in 1933 my impression of her began to change.

All is well at first but than a tragedy occurs which forms the major part of the book. It’s signalled in advance, when Harriet refers to the ‘horrible events’ that lay in the future. To say any more would be too much of a spoiler.

The setting of the book in Glasgow of the late 19th century is well described, helped by plans in the front of the book. The characters are also convincing, even some of the minor ones and her portrayal of Ned’s disturbed daughter, Sybil is quite chilling. This is a very detailed book, both about the place, artists and, through the account of a trial, the Scottish legal system of that period. It’s a book that lingered in my mind after I finished reading and if it wasn’t so long I’d like to re-read it in the light of what I now know.

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber (5 May 2011)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0571275168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571275168
  • Source:an uncorrected proof from the publishers (via LibraryThing Early Reviewers)
  • My rating 3.5/5

I haven’t read Jane Harris first book, The Observations, although I’ve owned it for a while. It’s probably time I read that one too.

Saturday Snapshot – In the Garden

Autumn is now well set in here. Our garden is well on the way to being covered in leaves. There are still some leaves clinging to the trees like this red maple:

whereas others still have their leaves, like the Japanese Maple shown below.

I was a bit concerned earlier this year that this little tree wouldn’t survive because its leaves were scorched by a late frost soon after the new shoots had opened.

A Saturday Snapshot post, hosted by Alyce, At Home with Books.

They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie: a Book Review

I made copious notes as I read Agatha Christie’s They Came to Baghdad because it’s such a complex plot and there seemed to be so many significant events and people that I wanted to clarify what was happening. This is not one of Agatha Christie’s detective novels – no Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot,-  just Victoria Jones, a short-hand typist, a courageous girl with a ‘natural leaning towards adventure’ and a tendency to tell lies. Set in 1950 this is a story about international espionage and conspiracy. The heads of the ‘great powers‘ are secretly meeting in Baghdad, where if it all goes wrong ‘the balloon will go up with a vengeance.’ And an underground criminal organisation is out to make sure it does go wrong, aiming at ‘total war – total destruction. And then – the new Heaven and the new Earth.’

Victoria gets involved after one meeting with a young man, Edward, who is going out to Baghdad the following day to join an archaeological dig. She thinks he’s an incredibly good-looking man and considering herself an excellent judge of character is immediately attracted to him. As she has just been fired from her job, impulsively she decides to follow him to Baghdad, claiming to be the niece of Dr Pauncefoot Jones, Richard’s boss .

At the same time a British secret agent, Carmichael, is trying to get to Baghdad with important information, and is his life is in great danger. Will he get there? Anna Scheele, a mysterious character is also on her way to Baghdad and there are hints that she is at the centre of things. Just who is she and what side is she on?

Alongside the mystery, Agatha Christie’s descriptions of the locations, local people and of the archaeological dig are superb, no doubt taken from her experience of her own visits to Baghdad and Iraq. I enjoyed it for its entertaining plot, the authenticity of the background and its great characters, in particular I grew very fond of the amazing Victoria Jones.

  • First published in 1951 by William Collins & Co Ltd
  • My copy a secondhand paperback Fontana Books, 1980
  • My Rating: 4/5

R.I.P. VI Challenge Completed

Carl’s R.I.P. VI  challenge ended on 31 October and I’m pleased that I completed Peril the First, which was :

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (my very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between.

I read the following books (linked to my reviews):

These are all books that were on my to-be-read list. I think Blood Harvest has to be my favourite of the four and I thoroughly enjoyed it – a dark, scary book, disturbing, and completely gripping.  I was particularly pleased that I finally read The Turn of the Screw as I first started to read it some years ago. It’s an ideal book for the RIP Challenge. Thanks go to Carl for hosting.

P is for Pissarro

L'Hermitage a Pontoise 1867, oil on canvas

 Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903) was one of the French Impressionist painters. In 1866 he moved to Pontoise on the banks of the River Oise, on the outskirts of Paris and lived there until 1884. He loved the area and painted 300 or so paintings in that period. L’Hermitage à Pontoise, the painting above, is one of my favourites of his, painted in a realistic rather than an impressionist style, showing an idyllic village scene and the hills behind. I like all the detail and his use of light and shade drawing attention to the figures on the road and highlighting the houses.

Red Roofs, 1877, oil on canvas

Ten years later he painted Red Roofs showing a corner of the village in winter with the traditional 18th century houses viewed through the trees. I like the blend of colours with the differing tones of the red of the roofs, fields and earth in the foreground, contrasting with the green of the grass and the blue of the sky. The twisting forms of the trees with their vertical trunks contrast sharply with the geometric shapes of the houses.

An ABC Wednesday post.