Raven Black – Ann Cleeves

Raven Black is a solid British police procedural – well drawn characters, quality dialogue and an almost believable plot. It is in the realist tradition, aiming to draw readers in through its likeness to real life.

The story is set on the isolated island of Shetland, and uses the murder of two young girls over a long period to explore the tensions on the island.

After a teenager, Catherine, is murdered, and another goes missing, suspicions fall on Magnus Tait, an old local loner suspected of killing a child twenty or so years ago for whom there was never justice. 

The local police officer, Perez, leads the investigation, vying with outside police forces for control of the case and discovering a lot about the people of the island on the way. 

The spoiler is that Tait didn’t kill either girl, though is covering for his mother who killed the first, and Catherine’s murderer and the kidnapping is in fact the work of her best friend, Sally, who envied and disliked Catherine equally.

The high quality writing and the exploration of island life make this a strong piece of crime fiction. 

Man Crazy – Joyce Carol Oates

True to form, Joyce Carol Oates’s Man Crazy is a powerful and affecting book. It tells the story of Ingrid, whose father mysteriously chose to leave after involvement in a murder and whose mother lived a needy and unsettled life, largely reliant on a series of men for a mix money and adoration. As Ingrid hits adolescence she experiences the same kinds of neediness as her mother, desperately craving the attention and lust of men.

It ends with her living as a sex slave in a biker – Satanist cult led by the depraved Enoch Skaggs. She exposes the cult, in the end, though it’s not clear entirely to her how that happened. Throughout the book the sheer sadness and desperation of Ingrid’s upbringing and its impact on her personality is so present, so powerful, that at times it’s difficult to continue reading.

The most affecting point is Ingrid’s poetry reading at secondary school. She has won the poetry competition and is to read out her winning poem during the end of year assembly. She cannot believe that anyone would think it worthy of winning and works herself into a state of panic in the run up to the reading. She scratches itches on her face so she is bleeding from her hairline and decides at the last minute to find another poem, by a classic poet, to read instead, which she mumbles through, the teachers and pupils in shock. The build up to the performance, excruciating to read, conveys such a strong insight into her insecure, under-confident and needy character.