Crime Fiction Alphabet: Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves

The Crime Fiction Alphabet is run by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. This week’s letter is the letter B.

Blue Lightning

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves is the fourth in her Shetland Island Quartet, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. I listened to the audiobook, which I borrowed from the library and I also read some of it on my Kindle. I don’t often listen to audiobooks as I prefer to read, but this was ideal for listening in the car on my recent weekday visits to Edinburgh. Listening to the audiobook was good, even though the male narrator couldn’t do a convincing female voice, especially a teenage female voice!

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Shetland Detective Jimmy Perez knows it will be a difficult homecoming when he returns to the Fair Isles to introduce his fiancee, Fran, to his parents. It’s a community where everyone knows each other, and strangers, while welcomed, are still viewed with a degree of mistrust. Challenging to live on at the best of times, with the autumn storms raging, the island feels cut off from the rest of the world. Trapped, tension is high and tempers become frayed. Enough to drive someone to murder…

When 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. With no support from the mainland and only Fran to help him – Jimmy has to investigate the old-fashioned way. He soon realizes that this is no crime of passion – but a murder of cold and calculated intention. With no way off the island until the storms abate – Jimmy knows he has to work quickly. There’s a killer on the island just waiting for the opportunity to strike again…

My thoughts

I like the ‘locked room’ aspect of the mystery. Because of the bad weather on Fair Isle no one could come or go and Jimmy had to do the best he could without his senior officer’s help. The murdered woman is Angela, the director of the field centre. Jimmy could take his time interviewing the suspects one by one and as practically everyone at the centre, staff and visitors, was a suspect it was difficult to work out who the murderer was.

Suspicion is first cast on Poppy, Angela’s teenage step-daughter, but it could have been any of them from Maurice her husband, to Ben the assistant warden, or the visiting bird watchers, or even one of the islanders. The tension is high to start with and steadily mounts as Jimmy even begins to suspect his father.

Fran, meanwhile, is not sure she wants to live on Fair Isle when she and Jimmy are married, feeling trapped there and missing her daughter, although she gets on well with his parents. She tries to help Jimmy with the investigation, but he doesn’t want to put her in any danger. But no one is safe, especially after there is a second murder.

The setting is excellent with detailed descriptions of Fair Isle, all of which made me want to visit, even though access by both boat and plane does sound precarious. This is how Fran and Jimmy approach the island:

Fran sat with her eyes closed. The small plane dropped suddenly, seemed to fall from the sky, then levelled for a moment before tilting like a fairground ride. She opened her eyes to see a grey cliff ahead of them. It was close enough for her to make out the white streaks of bird muck and last season’s nests. Below the sea was boiling. Spindrift and white froth caught by the gale-force winds spun over the surface of the water.

I’ve been watching Vera, the TV dramatisations of Ann Cleeves’s other detective series and I see from her website that the Jimmy Perez books are to be televised as well, with Douglas Henshall playing the part of Jimmy. I’ve enjoyed watching Vera, maybe because I haven’t read those books and I’m a bit wary of watching TV versions of the Jimmy Perez books simply because I have read them.

The four books in the Shetland series are:

I’ve read 1, 2 & 4. Whilst they do read OK as stand-alones I think it’s better to read them in sequence.

10 thoughts on “Crime Fiction Alphabet: Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves

  1. Sounds like an enjoyable read, I too prefer to read a printed book, rather than listen but, on transit it’s sometimes more convenient. Thank You for a great review. Hope you’re feeling better.


  2. I have just finished my first Ann Cleeves novel, it is a Vera one. But going to look out for the first one of these in the library next time I am in there.


  3. Margaret – Oh, I like Ann Cleeves’ work a lot and one of the reasons is her skill with setting atmosphere. You’re spot-on about that. And this one also (in my opinion at least) really helps us get to know Jimmy a little better. I like it quite a lot too for the “locked room” element you mention too. All in all, an excellent choice 🙂


  4. I am enjoying the Vera videos but have not got a chance to read any of Ms. Cleeves books. My library doesn’t have any will have to buy them. This one sounds really good


  5. Ann Cleeves is one of the authors on my “look for” list but so far I haven’t been able to get to her. Nice to have a great series to look forward to. Hope you are feeling well, Margaret. Thinking of you.


  6. “The setting is excellent with detailed descriptions of Fair Isle, all of which made me want to visit, even though access by both boat and plane does sound precarious”
    – exactly what I thought when I enjoyed this novel. Perhaps we´d better be content with experiencing it through Ann Cleeves´ eyes? 🙂


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