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 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.

White Nights by Ann Cleeves: a Book Review

White Nights (Shetland Island, #2)

White Nights by Ann Cleeves is the second in her Shetland Quartet, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. The first book is Raven Black, which I read and wrote about last year. I enjoyed this one just as much as the first and, although I think it stands well on its own, I think it best to read them in order as some of the characters appear in both and you can follow the development of their relationships.

White Nights is set mainly in Biddista, a fictional village of a few houses, a shop, an art gallery and restaurant called the Herring House, and an old Manse. Kenny Thomson finds a man’s body hanging in the hut where the boat owners of the village of Biddista keep their lines and pots. Perez recognises the dead man – he’s the mystery man who had caused a scene the previous evening at the opening of Bella Sinclair’s and Fran Hunter’s art exhibition. At first it looks as though the man, his face covered by a clown’s mask, has committed suicide, but he’d been dead before he was strung up and the murder team from Inverness, headed up by Roy Taylor, are called in. It takes quite some time before they can identify the dead man and even longer before the motive for killing him is revealed. And that is only after more deaths have occurred.

This is a most satisfying book for me. It’s not only full of believable characters, each one an individual in their own right, it also has a nicely complicated plot and a great sense of location. As well as the mystery of who killed the man in the clown mask and why, there is also the disappearance 15 years earlier of Kenny’s older brother Lawrence. It was thought that he left the island after Bella had broken his heart. Kenny hadn’t heard from him since and at first thought the dead man could be him.

It’s the place, itself, that for me conveyed the most powerful aspects of the book. The ‘white nights’ are the summer nights when the sun never really goes down. They call it the ‘summer dim’, the dusk lasts all night, and in contrast to the bleak, black winters, fills people with ‘a kind of frenzy‘. The landscape and the climate certainly play a great part in people’s lives.Taylor feels very much an outsider, almost too impatient to cope with what he thinks is Perez’s hesitant approach, until it occurred to him that

here in this bizarre, bleak, treeless community, Perez’s strange methods might actually get results. (page 263)

I could see the landscape and the sea, and I could hear the birds, the kittiwakes on the cliffs, the puffins and skuas. The Shetland Islands are part of theBritish Isles, but are so far north of the mainland that they are on about the same latitude as the southern point of Greenland.

However, I did think that the ending came rather suddenly after the careful build up to the mystery. The tension just gradually faded away as it became obvious who the culprit was. But I still think it’s a very good book, that held my interest, one that made me want to get back to it each time I had to put it down.

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Pan (5 Jun 2009)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0330448250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330448253
  • Source: Library Book
  • My Rating: 4/5

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves: Book Review

Raven Black is the first book I’ve read by Ann Cleeves. It’s set in Shetland and begins on New Year’s Eve with Magnus Tait seeing the new year in on his own. Magnus, a simple elderly man lives by himself, shunned by most of the other islanders.  To his delight two teenage girls knock on his door to wish him a Happy New Year. One of the girls is Sally, the daughter of the primary schoolteacher and the other is Catherine, an English girl whose father is the Head Teacher at Anderson High School.  A few days later Catherine is found dead in the snow not far from Magnus’s house, strangled with her own scarf.

Eight years earlier a young girl, Catriona, had gone missing and had never been found. At the time, although he had never been charged with anything, everyone was convinced that Magnus had killed her. When Catherine’s body is discovered the police and the locals immediately suspect that Magnus must have killed her.

Inspector Jimmy Perez, originally from Fair Isle, is in charge of the investigation until the arrival of a team from Inverness headed up by DI Roy Taylor. Whilst everyone else is convinced of Magnus’s guilt Perez doesn’t want to jump to conclusions and and feels pity for him. Perez is a fascinating character, descended from a seaman from the Spanish Armada, shipwrecked on Fair Isle. Coming from Fair Isle to Shetland he understands how it must have been for Catherine as an outsider. Catherine, though had not worried what others thought of her and had been making a film of the island, interviewing people getting them to reveal themselves to her camera.  As everyone who knew Catherine is questioned it becomes clear that several people could easily be her killer and I completely failed to identify the culprit. Thinking back over the book I could see that all the clues were there, but so skillfully planted that I failed to see them.

The tension between the islanders and the incomers is evident and also the loneliness of outsiders. Family ties, heredity and personal relationships are important themes running through the narrative.  There is also a strong sense of location and terrific atmosphere – the landscape, the sea, the weather, the circling ravens and the spectacle of Up Helly Aa (the Fire Festival), all anchor the story and bring the book to life.

Often the colours on the islands were subtle, olive green, mud brown, sea grey and all softened by mist. In the full sunlight of early morning, this picture was stark and vibrant. The harsh white of the snow. Three shapes silhouetted. Ravens. (page 28)

There are three more books set in Shetland, featuring Perez – White Nights, Red Bones and Blue Lightning. I’m looking forward to reading them all. I’m also  going to look out for her other novels set in Northumberland.