Thursday, August 14, 2008

REVIEW: White Nights

Title: White Nights
Author: Ann Cleeves
Protagonist: Detective Jimmy Perez
Setting, present-day Shetland Islands, off the northern coast of Scotland
Series: #2
Rating: A

First Line:The passengers streamed ashore from the cruise ship.

One of the best things about being a member of Library Thing's Early Reviewers Program is the chance to get free books, and get them ahead of the public. White Nights was just such a book for me. I was excited because I'd enjoyed the first in the series, Raven Black. This second volume in the Shetland Island Quartet exceeded my expectations.

It's mid-summer in the Shetland Islands, a time when it never gets dark. Islanders joke about their "white nights", saying that it makes people act crazy. There may just be some truth to those attempts at humor. Detective Jimmy Perez has a new love in his life, and when he and Fran attend Fran's first art exhibit at the Herring House, an Englishman makes an emotional scene that quickly puts an end to the gathering. When the Englishman is found hanging from a rafter in a crofter's outbuilding, it doesn't take long for Perez to discover that he's got a murder--not suicide--on his hands. But no one seems to know whom the Englishman is, and when Perez calls in the police from Inverness, he and Taylor join hands once again in solving a case.

The Shetland Islands once again is a perfect setting for a mystery. The climate, the terrain, the close-knit inhabitants all join in giving the feeling of falling off the edge of the world. City dwellers may think there are no secrets in tiny villages, but those of us who have lived in such an environment know differently. In a village, your entire life can be an open book, but if you have a secret and are willing to keep it, no one else will know.

Along with her setting, Cleeves' pacing and plot are first rate. The story pulls the reader in, and although tiny clues are scattered throughout the pages, the ending still comes as a surprise. To me, the author's skill in characterization is where she really shines. The play of opposites, Perez and Taylor, in solving the crime; the egocentric grande dame, Bella Sinclair; Kenny Thomson, the crofter so in love with his wife...they all become laser-sharp in the focus of the reader's mind. The play of Perez & Taylor is brilliantly clear in this passage:

Perez considered. Taylor waited. He wanted to shout, It's a simple question, man. How long does it take to come up with an answer? He could feel the tension of waiting constricting his breathing.

"No," Perez said at last. "I never really was." And that was good enough for Taylor. Perez might irritate the shit out of him, but he was the best judge of character Taylor knew. He watched men like David Attenborough watched animals.

In many ways I enjoyed White Nights even more than Raven Black, but I know that it's a personal reaction. So much of the narrative in Raven Black centered around making fun of one of the inhabitants that it reminded me more of my grade school days than I was comfortable with. Don't let my personal reaction put you off. These two entries in Ann Cleeves' Shetland Island Quartet should not be missed.


  1. this sounds really interesting - I spent a month in the sheltand isles some years ago and it's still one of my favourite places.

  2. Just ordered both of these from my local library...thanks for the review ;0)

  3. You're welcome! I hope you enjoy them both as much as I did.


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