Friday, June 5, 2015

Review of Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves (Pan 2010)

Inspector Jimmy Perez has taken his fiancée, Fran, to visit his parents who live on the remote Fair Isle.  They arrive just as a large storm blows in cutting the island off from the rest of the Shetland Isles.  Perez has not managed to escape work, however, as the head of a local bird observatory is killed on his first night there.  He starts to investigate the murder on his own, the weather preventing reinforcements and a crime scene team from travelling.  The three centre staff and the five visitors all seem shook up by the death, but one of them is almost certainly the murderer, and they might kill again to protect their identity.  Perez must make quick progress, but the weather and lack of resources conspire against him.

Blue Lightning is the fourth book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetlands series, and in my view the strongest one in the sequence.  Cleeves uses a classic setup of a murder amongst a small number of characters who are isolated and have to remain together whilst the lone detective tries to determine which one of them is the killer and to prevent further deaths.  As with the other books there is a strong sense of place and good contextualisation, this time with respect to bird watching, and strong characterisation.  Where the story excels, however, is with respect to its emotional register, which is difficult to discuss without giving spoilers.  The plot unfolds as one might expect with the setup, with Perez trying to determine why the head of the bird observatory was murdered and by whom.  In that sense it’s rather a straightforward tale, but Cleeves mixes it up with a couple of savage twists that are somewhat signposted, but nonetheless have deep emotional impact and leave the reader surprised she had the nerve to perform them.  Overall, an interesting take on an established mystery trope.

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