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CIS: My classics by Ann Cleeves

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Ann Cleeves is one of the UK’s leading crime writers and, in time, there’s little doubt that her novels will rank as classics. In the 1986 she broke onto the scene with A Bird in the Hand, combining her interest in ornithology with a tale of dark deeds. Today, her mysteries feature police detectives rather than birdwatchers, but they are still usually set along the coastline, with both her Vera novels (North East England) and her Shetland series having been adapted for television. Ann has won several awards, and has just released her most recent Vera Stanhope book, The Seagull. Read on to discover Ann’s favourite classic crime novels…

The Flemish House by Georges Simenon
I love all the Maigret books. I never saw the television series starring Rupert Davies. It ran from 1960-63, so I was just too young to watch, but its popularity meant that the books were available as I was growing up. As a writer, I’m astounded at Simenon’s ability to put diverse meaning into a simple sentence. From one line of dialogue, we can pick up a sense of place, atmosphere and an understanding of character. I chose this title because it takes Maigret away from Paris and out of his comfort zone. It’s a story about outsiders, as much of the best crime fiction is.
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Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham
I still remember reading this for the first time. Its description of gloomy, post-war London blew me away. This is a nightmare of a book, with grotesque figures sliding in and out of the fog. Allingham’s sympathetic series character, Albert Campion, features but the real battle takes place between murderer Jack Havoc and saintly Canon Avril. If most classic crime fiction is a fight between good and evil, then this is the supreme morality tale. The superb writing and the more nuanced character of Albert Campion gives it depth though, and prevents it from becoming a mere fable.
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Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers
I know that Gaudy Night is a pretty poor mystery and there isn’t even a proper murder, but this book has been my comfort reading since I was a teenager. Harriet Vane returns to her Oxford college for a reunion of former students – the Gaudy of the title – and finds the ordered routine of the place has been ruined by a series of spiteful and increasingly disturbing pranks. She calls in her friend and champion Lord Peter Wimsey to investigate. Of course, it’s a picture of an idealised Oxford and certainly an idealised man: Dorothy Sayers never found anyone to match her creation! But I still cry in the proposal scene and I do wish all fictional detectives would be as respectful of their women as Wimsey is.
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Love in Amsterdam by Nicholas Freeling
This first Van Der Valk novel by Nicholas Freeling was published in 1962. I’m not sure if it counts as a classic, but it was an important novel for me, because it marked a different way of telling a story about a murder. It’s a slight novel told from the point of view of Martin, whose manipulative and self-absorbed lover Elsa, has been murdered. He is the prime suspect, but idiosyncratic police officer Van Der Valk believes in his innocence. He builds a relationship with Martin and uses his memories and the impressions he’s formed of the wilful and disturbed woman, to catch the killer.
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You can read our review of The Seagull here, or order a copy online with the button below.


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