Sunday Salon: heat and cold

Sunday SalonI am struck by how many second books in a series are set in the opposite season to the first — among those I've read, at any rate. I've recently finished Ann Cleeves's second Shetland Islands/Jimmy Perez novel, White Nights, for example, which is set in midsummer. In these northern climes, daylight never really ends; in an understated way the novel is permeated by the effect on the characters, who are overtired and internally disturbed by the lack of night's blackout. The first novel in the series, Raven Black, was set in the opposite season, where the metaphorical and literal darkness formed the contextual atmosphere for events.

This contrast of darkness with light (as John Harvey called one of his recent novels) is by no means unusual. The first two of Ake Edwardson's Chief Inspector Winter series do the same thing. Sun and Shadow took place in seedy, snow-ridden Stockholm (though there is a sunny Spanish interlude); its follow-up, Never End, was set in the intense heat of the Swedish holiday season. The next in the series, Frozen Tracks, I haven't read, but from the title it is going to be a return to the winter I imagine.

Asa Larsson's brilliant debut The Savage Altar (known to me as Sun Storm) is another winter chill story, as Rebecka Martinsson visits her childhood home in the dead of winter and uncovers a lot of nasty secrets buried in the snowdrifts. The second book, The Blood Spilt, takes place eighteen months later, starting out at Rebecka's law firm's midsummer party and describing events of that season.

Mari Jungstedt has also taken this route. Her highly recommended debut novel, Unseen, is set on the (Swedish, again) holiday island of Gotland in the summer; one of the angles is the pressure on the police to solve the crime quickly to protect the island's main revenue, its tourist trade. The follow-up, the equally good Unspoken, is set at the fag-end of the holiday season, and the colder climate is an apt setting for the bleakest of the novel's plot threads.

I am sure there must be other cases of alternating seasonal background, or perhaps it is just chance that I've come across so many of them in the past year or so of reading. Maybe it is a device that appeals to those writing about the North? 

Following from Kerrie's lead, I'll pick out some other reading-related posts from Petrona since the last Sunday Salon, for readers who don't follow the blog through the week, in case they are of interest:

(You can follow the links above or just scroll down.)

5 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: heat and cold

  1. I never noticed that before, very interesting. Readers in New Englander will have to pay more attention to it. Seasons are second nature to us. (sorry for the pun)

  2. I haven’t read them all but aren’t the Louise Penny novels in the same place, the small Canadian village of Three Pines, just in different seasons? STILL LIFE is set near Thanksgiving, in autumn. The next, DEAD COLD is in winter – that’s as many as I have read.
    I have only read RAVEN BLACK too – must remedy that.

  3. What a very perceptive observation, Maxine! I’ve never noticed. Perhaps it’s what writers who know a landscape well do to avoid making novels set in the same place too repetitive.
    I’ve been on a Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine kick, thanks to you. She is such a good writer, yet she seems to have a hard time ending her novels well. So many of the ones I’ve read seem to have ridiculous endings tacked on — as if she suddenly got tired of the mood she’d created in the foregoing 250 pages. I’m reading “The Minotaur” now and I hope it has a decent ending.

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Susan. Yes, you have identified a common failing with crime fiction — or at least those examples of it that are, in effect, “novels” — ie rely on atmosphere, characterisation, etc. For me, these are the most interesting books to read in the genre as opposed to straight “pulp” or whatever, but the ending is usually a let-down. The crime is what drives the plot and what makes you interested in the characters in the first place, but by the end, it has become an irrelevance as one’s interest in the characters has overcome one’s interest in the solution! And I think writers feel they have to invent ever-more complicated and obscure rationales, because there are just so many books, and every outcome-permuatation “has already been done”.

  5. Kerrie– I have only read one Louise Penny so have not got as far as noticing the seasons yet, but thanks for the tip!
    Raven Black and White Nights are the only Anne Cleeves I have read, too (the latter thanks to a booksale at work so incredibly cheap). But she has written many more, including another series – on my “one day” list, for sure!

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