BLUE LIGHTNING (2010) ***
by Ann Cleeves
First published by Macmillan, 2010
This edition published by Pan Books, 2015, 374pp (357pp)
includes 11-page preview of DEAD WATER.
Blurb: With the autumn storms raging, Fair Isle feels cut off from the rest of the world. Trapped, tension is high and tempers become frayed. Enough to drive someone to murder . . . A woman’s body is discovered at the renowned Fair Isles bird observatory, with feathers threaded through her hair. The islanders react with fear and anger. Detective Jimmy Perez has no support from the mainland and must investigate the old-fashioned way. He soon realizes that this is no crime of passion – but a murder of cold and calculated intention. There’s no way off the island until the storms abate – and so the killer is also trapped, just waiting for the opportunity to strike again.
The fourth book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series featuring detective Jimmy Perez is another intriguing and meticulously plotted murder mystery. The setting is ideal for an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit with a small cast of characters isolated at a bird observatory on the remote Fair Isle. Cleeves spends a lot of time rounding out her characters and their motives, which slows down the pace to a crawl at certain points. The writing is, however, well crafted giving a real sense of place. The final scenes produce a nightmare personal twist for Perez. and the denouement is a brave one for Cleeves as she leaves her lead character at a crossroads. Whilst the story would have benefited from some tighter editing, it remains a highly competent mystery thriller.
RED BONES (2009) ***½
by Ann Cleeves
First published by Macmillan, 2009
This edition published by Pan Books, 2015, 406pp (392pp)
includes 12-page preview of BLUE LIGHTNING.
Blurb: When an elderly woman is shot in what appears to be a tragic accident, Shetland detective Jimmy Perez is called to investigate the mystery. The sparse landscape and the emptiness of the sea have bred a fierce and secretive people. As Jimmy looks to the islanders for answers, he finds instead two feuding families whose envy, greed and bitterness have lasted generations. Then there’s another murder and, as the spring weather shrouds the island in claustrophobic mists, Jimmy must dig up old secrets to stop a new killer from striking again…
The third book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series featuring detective Jimmy Perez is a slow-burning mystery. Cleeves takes great care in growing her characters and making them feel real and this is key to the readers’ investment in the mystery. Whilst this approach can often slow the pace in a book with a relatively small cast of suspects, it does help create a sense of place. Cleeves also has the knack of cleverly ratcheting up the tension without the reader noticing it and you can feel yourself being drawn in as the book progresses. Perez is a detective who may lack charisma but has integrity and a sense of moral justice on his side. Much time is given to his sidekick, the raw and naive Sandy Wilson, whose character grows significantly through the book. The result is a good old-fashioned mystery with all the elements present.
WILD FIRE (2018) ***½
by Ann Cleeves
Originally published by Macmillan, 2018.
This edition published by Pan Books, 2019.
Blurb: Drawn in by the reputation of the islands, an English family move to the area, eager to give their autistic son a better life. But when a young nanny’s body is found hanging in the barn of their home, rumours of her affair with the husband begin to spread like wild fire. With suspicion raining down on the family, DI Jimmy Perez is called in to investigate, knowing that it will mean the return to the islands of his on-off lover and boss Willow Reeves, who will run the case. Perez is facing the most disturbing investigation of his career. Is he ready for what is to come?
As I was watching the latest series of BBC’s excellent Shetland series, I was also reading what is to be the last of the novels the series was based on. From Series 3 the BBC moved away from adapting Ann Cleeves’ novels and into writing original series length stories. That lifted the TV series to the next level by expanding the universe and making the TV version feel less about an isolated community. Cleeves, meanwhile, has finished her series with a novel that is deeply rooted in that community. Themes of a close-knit and suspicious community dealing with an invasion of new residents are explored here. The case is a murder, which in method replicates an earlier suicide by a local man down on his luck, having had to sell his ideal home to a couple of immigrants from England and their family, including their autistic son. Wild Fire is both familiar and entertaining. We know the characters and we know the island very well by now. Cleeves explores her characters by slowing the pace and allowing room for development. Her writing style is descriptive and also looks to explore each of the major protagonist’s viewpoint, making for a fully rounded story that otherwise has the familiar elements of the English crime mystery.
SHETLAND – SERIES 5 (TV) (UK, 2019) ***½
Distributor: Silverprint Pictures / British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Scotland; Release Date: 12 February – 19 March 2019; Running Time: 341m (6 episodes); Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
Director: Gordon Anderson, Isabelle Sieb; Writer: David Kane, Paul Logue (based on characters created by Ann Cleeves); Executive Producer: Kate Bartlett, Gaynor Holmes, David Kane; Producer: Eric Coulter; Director of Photography: Cinders Forshaw; Music Composer: John Lunn; Film Editor: Colin Monie, Chris Buckland; Production Designer: Emer O’Sullivan; Art Director: Ghillie Smith; Visual Effects: Fraser Murdoch.
Cast: Douglas Henshall (DI Jimmy Perez), Alison O’Donnell (Alison McIntosh), Steven Robertson (DC Sandy Wilson), Mark Bonnar (Duncan Hunter), Erin Armstrong (Cassie Perez), Julie Graham (Rhona Kelly), Rakie Ayola (Olivia Lennox), Catherine Walker (Alice Brooks), Derek Riddell (Chris Brooks), Robert Cavanah (Graeme Benson), Therese Bradley (Andrea Doyle), Anne Kidd (Cora McLean), Kate Dickie (DI Sam Boyd), Lorn Macdonald (Jamie Hayes), Owen Whitelaw (Prentice Hayes), Tracy Wiles (Carla Hayes), Isabelle Joss (Catrina), Robin Laing (Gavin Laird), Gail Watson (Mary Hunter), Ryan Fletcher (Calum Dunwoody), Meghan Tyler (Mags), John Kazek (Aaron McGuire), Frances Mayli McCann (Niki), Angus Miller (Donnie), Emma Mullen (Rosie), Olivia Barrowclough (Trish), Titana Muthui (Zezi Ugara), Ayanda Bhebe (Daniel Ugara), Lewis Howden (Billy McCabe).
Synopsis: Perez finds that the murder of the young Nigerian man is more than just the drugs trade but could be sex trafficking with the Shetlands a cog in a much larger wheel.
Comment: The fifth series of the brooding crime drama set in the bleak remote community of Shetland is another absorbing mystery. The plot unfolds at a slow pace with occasional bursts of energy and activity. This allows for investment in the characters and gives them room to breathe. As the mystery unfolds the pace quickens. The climax feels a little conventional, but the story overall is nevertheless satisfying. Henshall is excellent as the detective with a conscience and a strong supporting cast help to lift the material above the standard genre tropes.