Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Ann Cleeves's "Raven Black"

Ann Cleeves is reader-in-residence for the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, and was twice shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award before winning the first Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award last year for Raven Black.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Raven Black and reported the following:
Raven Black is set in Shetland, a bare and beautiful archipelago of islands off the north east point of Scotland. The place is at the root of the plot and informs most of the characters, yet there’s no sense of that on page 99. What we do get is a description of Roy Taylor, the detective who has been sent in from the Scottish mainland to head up the enquiry of the murder of a teenage girl. Taylor isn’t the series character so the description had to be tight and immediate:

Now Taylor got off the bed and stretched. He was standing on the balls of his feet and reached up towards the ceiling. Perez was reminded of an ape he’d seen in Edinburgh Zoo on a school trip. It had pushed against the bars of the enclosure needing more space. Taylor was a man who’d always need more space, Perez thought. Stick him in the middle of an African savannah and it still wouldn’t seem enough for him.

Inspector Perez is a Shetlander – the Spanish name is because his ancestors were shipwrecked during the Armada – and this piece throws up some of the tensions between him and the incomer who has come to take charge of the case. The novel is about belonging, about what it takes to belong and about the discomfort of being an outsider. Perez is an outsider because of his Mediterranean appearance and his exotic name, Taylor because he understands nothing of the culture of the islands.

Perhaps the main turning point in the book comes on page 100, and page 99 leads into this. Everyone assumes that the murderer is an old man called Magnus Tait, who was suspected of abducting a young girl some years before. On page 99 the team discusses the strategy for bringing Magnus in for questioning. At the beginning of page 100 Perez says,

"I don’t think we should jump to the conclusion that Magnus Tait is a killer."

Taylor’s agreement that they should consider other suspects allows the plot to move forward. It also establishes an uneasy alliance between the incomer and Perez.
Visit Ann Cleeves's website and her online diary.

--Marshal Zeringue