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Reader reviews roundup


Crime stalks the Shetland Islands, while questions of identity are examined through a very different lens in this week's roundup of reader reviews

"When precocious teenager Catherine Ross is found murdered, the prime suspect is ..." well, stpauli, who's turned to crime this week with a review of Ann Cleeves' Raven Black. We're off to the borders of the North Sea, a setting which stpauli says is "brought convincingly to life without sentimentality or lazy assumptions".

While the finger of blame is first pointed at Magnus Tait, a loner who has always been blamed for the death of another girl many years ago, it soon becomes clear that "in the small, tight-knit community of Shetland there are plenty of others who might have had a motive for killing Catherine". Cleeves tells the story not only through the eyes of her detective, Jimmy Perez, but also from the perspective of characters "including Magnus Tait himself, schoolgirl Sally Henry and incomer Fran Hunter".

"Each character is well-rounded and credible, and each lends something different to the narrative. However, Perez himself is an engaging lead, trying to make decisions about his own future and his relationship with Shetland and Fair Isle as he attempts to unravel not only the mystery of Catherine Ross's murder but also the 'cold case' of Catriona Bruce, who, like Catherine, disappeared shortly after a visit to Magnus Tait's croft."

Perez is "the very opposite of the traditionally rational, driven, detached detective", stpauli continues, who feels "almost overwhelming pity for Magnus Tait, whether he was a murderer or not", strives to protect the ex-wife of a former friend, 'even though she could reasonably be a suspect too', and buys his house "on a romantic whim". A conclusion that is "at once startling and yet simultaneously completely believable" leaves stpauli already planning her next trip – Jimmy Perez returns for his next Shetland outing in White Nights.

ROYMARSHALL has been suffering from double vision, saluting Maria Taylor's ability to inhabit and interrogate her Cypriot ancestry in her collection of poems, Melanchrini. The "filmic" opening poem puts us in rural Cyprus, where the day begins with "strong coffee" and a sense that the young child who waits with the sun before rising may not truly belong.

"This sense of duality is mirrored in images and within whole poems where ethereal, dreamlike or hallucinatory qualities come up against the concrete-hard descriptions of daily life, where the rural meets the urban, where below the surface of the everyday there are other lives, other stories, some lost in the passage of time."

A couple of lines from 'Par Avion' could almost serve as the poet's credo, continues ROY:

"Memory lapses into dream and dreams
are forgotten. The only reality is ink."

Other highlights include a scene in a betting shop and an evocation of the "the horror of teaching poetry to schoolchildren", 'Larkin', which "ends with a suitably Larkinesque twist". This is a first collection which "in its assurance, maturity, coherence and bravery ... feels a long way from being a debut", adds ROYMARSHALL, and I'm inclined to agree, if only to keep ROY from any more shouting.

Thanks for all your reviews – as always, give me a shout over at richard.lea@guardian.co.uk if I've mentioned one of your reviews, and I'll dig out something from the cupboards.

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