Monday, 26 November 2007

Raven Black

I’m delighted to hear that Ann Cleeves’ novel Raven Black has been short-listed for Sweden’s Martin Beck award (named after the gloomy cop created by Sjowall and Wahloo) for the best translated novel of the year. The same book earned Ann the CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger for best crime novel of 2006, and led to her breakthrough into crime fiction’s Premier League.

The reason for my delight is that Ann has been a great friend for upwards of fifteen years, as well as a fellow member of Murder Squad for the past seven. I read and enjoyed her early novels before we met for the first time and it’s a real pleasure to see that her talents are now, at long last, being very widely recognised.

What made Raven Black stand out more than her earlier books? It’s quite tricky to analyse. The Shetland setting is evocative and memorable – but then, she’s been a leading exponent of the rural mystery for a long time. The plot and characters are very good, but the same can be said of the other books. The Healers, The Baby Snatcher, and The Sleeping and the Dead are also terrific novels, but they made much less impact upon publication. A key factor is probably the marketing push that her publishers gave to this particular novel – and they were well rewarded for their faith in it.

One of the features of Ann’s work is her economical literary style. She writes very good short stories, several of which I’ve included in anthologies I’ve edited. I hope that before long she’ll put together a collection of them. In the meantime, look out for ‘The Plater’ (which was short-listed for a CWA Dagger) and ‘Games for Winter’ in particular. They are both first rate.


Andrea said...

Martin - I feel that it was the setting of 'Raven Black' that created its wonderful success for Ann Cleeve. I say this because of the effect it had on me when I read it. Don't get me wrong here - I hate snow!
However there was a powerful intensity that came over with the writing, which I feel must have been from Ann's time living there. She must have identified emotionally with the energies of the place or some such thing.
It happened, I feel, with a totally different genre author Lillian Beckwith, when she moved to an incredibly new life on a Scottish island, and it came out in her several books written there. They had great success for her.
I also wonder if there is some kind of intensity with your own Harry's feelings for his wife Liz - an intensity that survived her death........why did you give him that situation I wonder?
I remember once asking the owner of St Emilion wines what made an exceptional year and he spread his hands out in that typically Gallic manner and said 'Oh madame - who knows?'
If you think about it, you would have nothing to strive for if every book was a powerful success would you?

Martin Edwards said...

Andrea, I created that situation for Harry Devlin specifically for the first book, in which his estranged wife is murdered, but of course the loss of her affects his life long-term. As you say, it's an intense, life-changing experience. I did once have a copy-editor who suggested that he should be 'getting over it' by book three, but I felt this was a bit harsh!