Thursday, December 22, 2011

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves

Title: Blue Lightning
Author: Ann Cleeves
ISBN: 9780312384449
Publisher: Minotaur Books, 2011
Paperback, 368 pages
Genre: Police Procedural, #4 in the Shetland Island Quartet
Rating: A
Source: Paperback Swap

First Line: Fran sat with her eyes closed.

Fair Isle is a remote location in the Shetland Islands, in many ways better known to dedicated birdwatchers than any other group of people. When the weather closes in, landing an airplane there can be a very dicey affair. Fran learns this the hard way as she comes to visit her fiance's parents before she and Jimmy are married.

Her visit has barely begun when a celebrity scientist who ran the island's bird research center is murdered. Left with her soon-to-be in-laws while Jimmy Perez puts himself in Detective Inspector mode, Fran begins to look for ways she can help Jimmy with his investigation. The weather has socked in with a vengeance. No one can leave. No one can arrive. Perez has what is basically a locked room mystery to solve, and his careful interviews with the people at the research center show that the murdered scientist was very different from her television persona. There are many reasons why someone would want her dead, but can Perez choose the right reason and the right killer?

One thing I do want to mention before I forget it is that, although all the typed information at the top is for the U.S. edition of Blue Lightning, the cover is from the U.K. edition. Why? I find it much more evocative for one thing. For another, the U.S. cover shows a flock of sea gulls flying at your face, and that reminds me too much of Alfred Hitchcock's classic movie, The Birds! And it just so happens that the movie leads me to something else you might like to know: Cleeves uses several birdwatching terms that may be somewhat confusing if you've never been introduced to them. They are very easy to look up if need be, but it's simple to deduce their meaning within the context of the sentences.

I loved Cleeves' take on the locked room mystery. It is perfect for Perez's investigating style. He likes to take his time interviewing everyone, getting a feel for each person's mood, and listening to what they say... and what they don't say. Since communications are spotty and no one can land on the island due to the weather, Perez can actually do much of the investigation his own way without interference from his mainland superiors.

The weather makes for a very claustrophobic atmosphere, and as each person at the research center is spoken to again and again, their true feelings towards the victim are revealed, and it becomes very difficult to pinpoint just one of them as the killer. The dead woman herself becomes every bit as important as the characters who are alive and breathing.

With each book of the Shetland Island Quartet, my admiration for the character of Jimmy Perez grows. He's quiet and unassuming, but he has a strength that can provoke a response in anyone. His fiance, Fran, finds herself wanting to help him in any way she can, not only because she feels trapped on the tiny island, but because she wants to know more about this other area of his life that's so vital to him.  Jane, the cook at the research center, watches Perez and sees his true character when most do not. Jane intuitively knows how intelligent this man is, how good he is at his job, and she decides to try to beat Jimmy at his own game. That's not always a wise thing to do. Fair Isle may be small, and there may not be many people in residence. But no one is safe. No one.

If you haven't read any of the books in the Shetland Island Quartet, I urge you to do so. You just might find yourself falling in love with a remote and beautiful corner of the world, with a quiet and quite canny police inspector, and with strong mysteries that grab you at the first page and won't let you go.


  1. Cathy - Oh, I really, really like this quartet and Ann Cleeves' work. I think for me, the atmosphere works so wonderfully well. Cleeves' characters are well-drawn, too. Thanks for reminding me!

  2. My interest is peaked now. I have to see this atmosphere for myself! Love the choice of cover Cathy.

  3. Margot-- You're welcome!

    Peggy-- You have some good reading ahead of you!

  4. And the really good news is that as far as I know she is not going to stop after the quartet :D

  5. Dorte-- I'm perfectly happy to read anything Ann Cleeves wants to write!


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