If you’ve spent years entirely gripped by Brenda Blethyn in Vera or Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez in Shetland on TV, then you already know what an outstanding writer Ann Cleeves is.

She is the celebrated British author responsible for creating both characters in her gripping crime novels, which have now been brought to life on the small screen.

Cleeves has become a household name in the world of mystery writing and, with a career spanning over three decades, has penned numerous bestsellers, including the beloved Vera Stanhope and Shetland series.

Her ability to craft suspenseful plots has earned her numerous awards and a loyal fan base. Her intricate narratives not only capture readers but also vividly bring the rugged landscapes of Northumberland and the Shetland Islands to life.

While we may be more familiar with Stanhope and Perez, she has also written extensively on other series, including George and Molly Palmer-Jones, Inspector Stephen Ramsay, and DI Matthew Venn in the Two Rivers books, as well as Detective Peter Porteous in the stand-alone novel The Sleeping and the Dead.

So let’s take a look at each character in more detail as well as their books in order so if you haven’t read them before, you’ll know exactly where to start.

Jimmy Perez Books

Ann Cleeves’ book series featuring DI Jimmy Perez is set in the stunning and remote Shetland Islands, located off the coast of Scotland.

The series, often referred to simply as the Shetland series, follows Perez as he navigates complex murder investigations in this close-knit, sometimes insular community.

They begin with Raven Black (2006), for which Cleeves won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for the best crime novel of the year.

The plot follows the discovery of a young girl’s body on New Year’s Day and sets the tone for Perez’s methodical and deeply empathetic approach to solving crimes.

Throughout the series, we are introduced to a range of vivid characters, with Perez himself portrayed as a thoughtful and perceptive detective who fans have grown to love over the years.

  • Raven Black (2006)
  • White Nights (2008)
  • Red Bones (2009)
  • Blue Lightning (2010)
  • Dead Water (2013)
  • Thin Air (2014)
  • Cold Earth (2016)
  • Wild Fire (2018)

Vera Stanhope

The Vera Stanhope series is set in and around Newcastle and follows the investigations of Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope.

If you’ve watched Brenda Blethyn over the last 13 years, you will know she is a sharp-witted, unconventional detective with a keen mind for solving complex cases.

Vera is a middle-aged and unassuming detective, often underestimated by her colleagues and suspects alike.

Despite her gruff exterior and sometimes abrasive manner, she is deeply compassionate and driven by a strong sense of justice, making her a standout figure in contemporary crime fiction.

The series kicks off with The Crow Trap, where Vera investigates the suspicious death of a team member involved in an environmental study.

Every book, except for The Glass Room, has been adapted for the TV series. And on that note, Brenda Blethyn has announced that the upcoming 14th season, which will air in 2025, will also be her last.

  • The Crow Trap (1999)
  • Telling Tales (2005)
  • Hidden Depths (2007)
  • Silent Voices (2011)
  • The Glass Room (2012)
  • Harbour Street (2014)
  • The Moth Catcher (2015)
  • The Seagull (2017)
  • The Darkest Evening (2020)
  • The Rising Tide (2022)
  • The Dark Wives (2024)

Palmer-Jones Novels In Order

We love nothing more than an amateur sleuth here at Cozy Crime Mystery, except maybe for two of them, which is why the George and Molly Palmer-Jones series is such good fun.

After all, who knew bird watching could be so dangerous but that’s exactly what it is in these delightful books.

This series follows the adventures of retired civil servant George Palmer-Jones and his wife, Molly.

The couple’s shared passion for birdwatching often places them in the midst of murder investigations, where their keen observational skills and attention to detail prove invaluable.

No doubt the series was inspired by one of Cleeves’ earlier jobs as a cook at the Fair Isle bird observatory, though it’s unlikely she ever had to solve a murder while whipping up a batch of gravy!

Thankfully, she threw in her cook’s apron and opted to give the world the Palmer-Jones duo, which was a much better decision, especially for us fans of her work.

  • A Bird in the Hand (1986)
  • Come Death and High Water (1987)
  • Murder in Paradise (1988)
  • A Prey to Murder (1989)
  • Another Man’s Poison (1992)
  • Sea fever (1993)
  • The Mill on the Shore (1994)
  • High Island Blues (1996)

Inspector Stephen Ramsey Order of Books

Inspector Stephen Ramsey is a thoughtful and diligent detective in the fictional town of Heppleburn, located in Northumberland, England.

A somewhat introspective detective, his quiet demeanour often masks his sharp investigative skills as he tackles various complex cases, each set against the backdrop of the stark Northumberland landscape.

Similar to Jimmy Perez, his approach to solving crimes is methodical and patient. In A Lesson in Dying, the series opener, he investigates the murder of a headmaster in a small village, uncovering secrets and lies that lead to a surprising conclusion.

  • A Lesson in Dying (1990)
  • Murder in My Backyard (1991)
  • A Day in the Death of Dorothea Cassidy (1992)
  • Killjoy (1993)
  • The Healers (1995)
  • The Baby Snatcher (1997)

DI Matthew Venn and the Two Rivers Series

Not only are these some of Ann Cleves’ most recent books, but they are also the latest to be adapted for TV with Ben Aldridge starring as DI Matthew Venn.

To date, there are only three books in this collection, but we’ve already gotten to know a lot about Venn, a complex and compelling character who investigates crimes in North Devon, England.

In fact, the series is named after the two rivers, Taw and Torridge, that define the landscape of this area.

DI Matthew Venn is an intriguing protagonist who carries the emotional burden of being estranged from the strict evangelical community in which he was raised, which influences his work.

We are introduced to him in the first book, The Long Call, when he returns to North Devon to investigate the murder of a man found on a beach near his home.

Fans of crime fiction and those who appreciate a strong sense of place will find the Two Rivers series particularly engaging.

  • The Long Call (2019)
  • The Heron’s Cry (2021)
  • The Raging Storm (2023)

Stand Alone Novels

One of Ann Cleeves’ most popular characters actually comes from a stand-alone book, so if you love Peter Porteous and want more, then I’m afraid you are out of luck.

Detective Peter Porteous is the main character in The Sleeping and the Dead (2001), and is called to Cranwell Lake where the body of a teenager has been discovered, having been there for for over a decade.

He then discovers that the victim is Michael Grey, a secretive young man who was reported missing by his foster parents in 1972.

That puts the investigation on course with Hannah Morton, a now divorced mother who was dating Michael at the time he went missing.

With Porteous meticulous and determined to resolve what happened the night Michael died, secrets must be revealed if he wants to get to the truth.

Burial of Ghosts (2003) is Cleeves’ second stand-alone novel. This time, it follows Lizzie Bartholomew, a troubled young woman with a difficult past.

She decides to escape her problems by taking a trip to Morocco, but upon her return to England, she receives an unexpected letter.

The letter, from a man she met briefly during her travels, informs her that he has left her a substantial inheritance.

However, this windfall comes with a disturbing request: she must uncover the truth about his son’s death, a task that leads her into a web of secrets and danger.

Conclusion

Ann Cleeves’ extensive body of work offers an incredible range of crime fiction that captivates us with its intricate plots, compelling characters, and vividly described settings.

From the atmospheric Shetland Islands with DI Jimmy Perez to the rugged landscapes of Northumberland with Vera Stanhope, and from the birdwatching adventures of George and Molly Palmer-Jones to the introspective investigations of Inspector Ramsey, Cleeves has created a diverse and immersive world of mysteries.

The Two Rivers series, featuring DI Matthew Venn, further cements her reputation as a master storyteller, exploring the depths of human emotion and the complexities of rural life.

Whether you’re a long-time fan or new to her work, Ann Cleeves’ novels promise to deliver suspense, intrigue, and a profound connection to the places and people that inhabit her stories.

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