Thursday, May 10, 2018

“Blue Lightning” by Ann Cleeves

Shetland Detective Jimmy Perez is taking a week’s vacation from work. He’s bringing his fiancé Fran to his home island of Fair Isle to meet his parents. Fair Isle is the most distant of the Shetland Islands, and it could be argued whether it’s in the North Sea or the North Atlantic. One thing that can’t be argued, however, is that Fair Isle is a mecca for birders – birdwatchers who come from all over the world to see a rather amazing variety of birds.

The warden for the nature preserve that exists on Fair Isle is both a PhD and television celebrity, whose claim to fame was the discovery of an incredibly rare bird. She lives at the preserve (which includes a lighthouse and attached inn) with her much older husband. She also has a penchant for much younger men.

Then she’s found dead in her study, a knife in her back and bird feathers artfully arranged in her hair. Because of the bad weather, Jimmy Perez has to investigate the crime. And it’s particularly perplexing because everyone and no one seems to have a motive – the dead woman’s husband, any of her many lovers, the cook, the guests currently staying at the preserve, and even local inhabitants. 

Then there’s a second murder, one which leads to the inescapable conclusion that Jimmy’s own father is involved.

Blue Lightning by British mystery writer Ann Cleevesis the story of what happens on Fair Isle, which seems loosely based on the real island of Foula, known as “the most remote inhabited island in Britain.” Cleeves pulls off what is rare in mystery writing – a story that seems maddeningly slow while simultaneously moving faster and faster. There may be no place like home, but Jimmy Perez soon finds himself wishing he was anywhere but home, particularly having to improvise without an initial crime scene team.

Ann Cleeves
Cleeves has published seven mysteries in the Jimmy Perez / Shetland series, including Raven Black (2008), Red Bones(2009), White Nights (2010), Blue Lightning (2011), Dead Water (2014), Thin Air (2015), and Cold Air (2017). She’s also published eight mystery novels in the Vera Stanhope series (also a television series), six Inspector Stephen Ramsay mysteries, and several others works and short stories. The Jimmy Perez novels are the basis for the BBC television series “Shetland.” Cleeves lives in northeastern England.

Blue Lightning is filled with twists, turns, and often unexpected developments. I didn’t see the ending coming (although there were hints; Cleeves doesn’t mislead her readers) and it whacked me. It’s a solid measure of the writer’s skill when readers become emotionally invested in a story’s characters. Cleeves has that skill down pat.


Top photograph: a scene from the Isle of Foula in the Shetlands, an island not6 unlike the Fair Isle ofBlue Lightning, including the attractions for birders. Photo courtesy of Cruisemapper.

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