Shetland author’s whodunnit to encourage reading

IT IS a murder mystery like no other: where the calm, orderly hush of the library is likely to be shattered by a bloodcurdling scream.

Ann Cleeves has written a murder mystery that is set in a Shetland hotel. Picture: Toby Williams

A best-selling author is teaming up with libraries around the country to stage a series of whodunnit live 
dramas, where members of the public are invited to help solve the crime.

It is hoped the events will encourage more people to visit their libraries as well as satisfying the analytical skills of would-be criminologists.

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Ann Cleeves, whose books have been translated into the hit BBC crime drama Shetland is behind the project.

Known as Murder at the Ravenswick Hotel, the murder mystery is set in a fictional Shetland hotel and invites the audience to solve the murder of a woman, Hanna Bayford, whose body is found in a pool of blood in the hotel’s library with a poker nearby.

The event, part of the 24 ­Islands/24 Hours promotional project Cleeves is working on with libraries in Shetland and Orkney, is being rolled out in Shetland next month.

However, it is hoped that its success will encourage other libraries to stage their own version, with scripts and materials available free of charge.

The murder mystery idea was premiered at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, with the help of Steven Robertson and Alison O’Donnell, two of the stars from the Shetland television series.

Cleeves, who has been a high-profile critic of local authority moves to close libraries around the UK, said she was thrilled to roll it out across communities.

The 59-year-old explained: “All you need for a successful evening is some scrap paper and pencils so people can take notes. We all know how Cluedo works and we all love a story.

“24/24 is a celebration of all that’s exciting about libraries and reading. The Shetland murder mystery allows libraries all over the UK to be in the Northern Isles in spirit and to pull in a new audience.”

The format of the show, according to Cleeves, can be made “as elaborate or as simple as you like”.

Along with a host to introduce the scenario, each library wanting to stage the event requires four suspects – two men and two women – who play the parts of Jeremy Carswell, a businessman from the mainland; Robert Eunson, who runs the local bar and restaurant; Jennifer James, the hotel’s owner; and Edie Stout, a single mother who works at the ­hotel.

After each suspect reads a monologue, the audience is talked through a forensic report, which has been prepared by Helen Pepper, a veteran crime scene investigator who now teaches on the policing course at Teeside University and advises television producers on creating faithful crime scenes.

The audience is then given a chance to reflect on the events and discuss what might have happened, before each member is asked to name the murderer and suggest a motive. The guilty party then reads a confession and the audience member who came closest with their detective skills wins a prize.

Cleeves explained: “An event will only be successful if you keep the outcome secret. The script is made available for library use and we hold the ­copyright.”

People in Shetland can take part in Murder at the Ravenswick Hotel at Busta House ­Hotel or Lerwick Library on 13 September, where Cleeves will be in attendance.

At the evening event she will also be joined by Pepper.

Karen Fraser from Shetland Library said: “Ann has not only brought us a lot of attention with her Shetland novels, but has a library background and is passionate about the value of libraries.”