Thursday, June 13, 2013


I've never visited them nor have I given the Shetland Islands too much thought  until recently, but a month or so ago I started reading Ann Cleeves' Shetland detective stories.   Gripping they are too.  Elegant writing, clever plots, a sympathetic detective and, above all, vivid descriptions of the British Isles' most northerly islands. ( I've long realised I read detective stories as much for the descriptions of the land and cityscapes as for the plot).

As I've worked my way through the series Ms Cleeves and the Sheltland Islands have reeled me in. I started scanning the internet for images, plotting routes, studying maps. Even though I'm in no state to walk any distance and I take taxis to go to where I need to go, I'm planning hikes across the rocky, treeless moors under the wide skies where the only sounds are the wind, the waves and the sea birds.  Where Bergen is closer than Edinburgh and the names of the little towns and settlements come from Old Norse.  Wildness and wilderness attracts me, it always has.  So I'm smitten. It's like falling in love again at an age where you should know better. 

By happy coincidence I caught a TV programme the other night on the landscape artist and printmaker, Norman Ackroyd,.  The son of a Yorkshire butcher, apart from being stunningly talented he came across as a humble, down to earth man who produces haunting, powerful yet delicate etchings and aquatints of the remote and wild places of the British landscape.  He is particularly captivated by the Scottish islands, including the Shetlands and I in turn was moved and excited by his work.  A new discovery.

More prints and biographical notes on Norman Ackroyd's website here.    Take a look.


 I've told myself of late that travel no longer holds the same appeal, that I'm jaded and weak and old, that I want to stay home. I may perhaps be pickier now, but there are  moors, cliffs, rocks and islands, that still call to me and to my spirit.  I can still fall in love.


Anonymous said...

I caught this programme too - what a discovery, his work is wonderful! Barbara

mm said...

Barbara: isn't it just!

Leslee said...

These Ann Cleeves books sound intriguing. Where do I start? What do you recommend?

My bf and I watch a lot of the British detective series on TV (Masterpiece Mystery series here) - so much better than the US produced shows. And much of it also fascinating for the scenery. I'm currently reading Kate Atkinson's Case Histories, which was made into a detective series I enjoyed. Plus I had just finished reading her latest Life After Life, which was excellent.

mm said...

Leslee: Ann C has written two series of detective novels, the Shetland books and the Vera Stanhope series, as well as many stand-alone mysteries. All the ones I've read are set in either Northumbia in the north-east of England or the Shetlands. Both areas have strong links with Scandinavia and there are similarities with Nordic crime fiction.

My favourites are the Shetland books, and I strongly recommend reading them in sequence, starting with Raven Black - there is an important story line that runs through the series. The Vera books are also very good - she is a middle aged, overweight maverick police officer. A well drawn character.

Thanks for the Kate Atkinson mention. I've been pondering whether to try her out, and your recommendation has inspired me to take the plunge!