7 questions with Ann Cleeves on her literary career, birth of mystery series ‘Vera’

“I decided I’d have a door burst open and see who came through. In came Vera Stanhope almost fully formed …”

Lit Life

Like other American fans of British mystery writer Ann Cleeves, I was introduced to her world through the PBS-based mystery series “Vera.” Title character Vera Stanhope, played by the marvelous British actress Brenda Blethyn, is a middle-aged woman whose baggy dresses, rubber boots and hunting vests camouflage an iron will. She lives alone on a windswept Northumberland hill in the ramshackle house of her dead father. She has a taste for whiskey and a temper that can strike like a snake.

And she’s a brilliant crime solver who runs a crackerjack police investigative unit in a fictional Northeast England town — like all great detectives, Vera is utterly loyal to the victims and committed to tracking down their murderers.

Now Cleeves’ American publisher is introducing both Cleeves’ Vera series and another featuring Jimmy Perez, a police detective in the Shetland Islands, with the simultaneous U.S. publication of “The Crow Trap,” the first “Vera” book, and “Cold Earth,” the latest in a series featuring Perez, about a deadly landslide in the Shetlands that almost buries evidence of murder.

Author appearance

Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves will discuss her books at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, 2017, at Seattle’s University Book Store. Free (206-634-3400; ubookstore.com). The “Vera” television series is available on PBS and on Acorn TV; “Shetland” episodes can be streamed on Amazon.

Cleeves, author of 30 books, appears at the University Book Store on April 20 — she answered questions via email about her varied life and her long and productive (30 books) literary career:

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3-course dinners for $32 starting April 2.

Q: Both Vera and Jimmy Perez are loners. Was that because the lone wolf fits so well in the classic mystery scheme, or is it that, despite having a large family (six grandkids), there’s a bit of a loner in you?

A: I’m not sure that I’m a loner — though I’m grateful to squeeze some time and space to write — but I’m certainly more of an observer than a participant. I think that’s true of most authors.

The characters developed rather differently. “The Crow Trap,” the first Vera novel, started out as a psychological stand-alone book. I never intended to have a detective as a central character. But I got stuck with the story about a third of the way in…I decided I’d have a door burst open and see who came through. In came Vera Stanhope almost fully formed…. she looked more like a bag lady than a detective.

… I was born in the mid-’50s, and there were a number of women in our small town who’d come into their own during the Second World War and had taken on responsibilities that might not otherwise have been allowed to them. They’d decided that they preferred independence to marriage. …women who were hospital…

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