Review 1416: Thin Air

Four Londoners are visiting Unst for a hamefarin’, a party for a newly married couple. Late the night of the party, Eleanor disappears. She had recently been depressed after a stillbirth, but her friends report she has seemed much better recently.

After Jimmy Perez and his team arrive, Eleanor’s body is found stretched out next to a small lake. She seems to be in an unnatural position, and the team thinks she was struck in the head.

Eleanor was making a film about rational people who claim to have had a supernatural experience. The area where they are staying is supposed to be haunted by a young drowned girl named Peerie Lizzy. Eleanor claims to have seen a girl on the beach in an old-fashioned white dress. Later, Polly sees her, too.

Of course, the main suspects are the friends and Eleanor’s husband, Ian. Eleanor and Ian seem somewhat of a mismatch, and Ian had Eleanor committed during her depression over the stillbirth.

Polly is a dreamy, shy librarian. She and her outgoing, assured boyfriend, Marcus, seem to be an unusual couple. The groom, Lowry, dated Eleanor in college and was said to be devastated when she broke up with him. Caroline, his new wife, seems much more concerned with the couple’s plans to move to Unst than by Eleanor’s death.

This is another complex, clever mystery by Cleeves. I had no clue of the solution, although I did guess a major plot point. A small caveat, though. The motive for the murder, once it was revealed, seemed far-fetched.

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Review 1361: Blue Lightning

Cover for Blue LightningI started watching the Shetland television series, based on Ann Cleeves’s books, before reading the books but found that they had changed the TV series just enough to allow the books to still surprise (or vice versa). Unfortunately, however, I accidentally read one of the later books before this one, so I knew about a key plot point going in.

Inspector Jimmy Perez takes his fiancée, Fran, home to Fair Isle to meet his parents. A storm comes in shortly after their arrival, making the island inaccessible. So, although he is supposed to be on vacation, when Angela, the scientist at the island bird research center, is found murdered, Jimmy must begin working the case by himself.

He finds that Angela, although married to the site administrator, Maurice, was quite free with her favors, especially to younger, fit men. That would seem to make Maurice a suspect, but he doesn’t appear to care. Further, Angela was not well liked, being arrogant and rude to most people. The night of her murder, she had a big fight with her stepdaughter, Poppy.

Jimmy’s team and the Fiscal finally make it over to the island, but they have only been there a short time when Jane, the cook at the research center, is also found dead. Jimmy thinks she must have found out or witnessed something.

As usual, Cleeves keeps us guessing. I thought I knew who the murderer was through most of the novel only to be wrong about that and the motive. There is a shocking event toward the end of the novel. I couldn’t judge its effect, because that was the thing I knew about.

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Review 1315: Dead Water

Cover for Dead WaterI was trying to read Ann Cleeves’s Shetland series in order, but somehow I made a mistake and skipped the one before Dead Water. That unfortunately makes me privy to a key plot point for the previous book but did not spoil this one.

Jimmy Perez is on compassionate leave for reasons that readers of the previous novel will know, so he does not immediately become involved when the Fiscal, Rhona Laing, finds a body aboard the yoal that she shares with a group of rowers. The body is that of Jerry Markham, a reporter who left the island years ago to work in London. He has returned to Shetland to see his parents, the owners of a hotel, and for some other reason. He seemed to be working on a story, but if that is true, his editor knows nothing about it.

The mainland office sends Willow Reeves to be in charge of the investigation, and she immediately thinks the Fiscal isn’t telling everything she knows. The crux of the matter seems to be Markham’s reasons for returning to Shetland.

Jimmy slowly gets drawn into the investigation, which soon finds that years ago Markham made an innocent young girl, Evie Watt, pregnant and refused to accept responsibility for it. Evie lost the child, and now she is on the verge of marriage to John Henderson, a pilot. Evie acknowledges that Markham tried to contact her but says she refused to speak to him.

The team follows several leads, including a dispute over green energy, until another body surfaces and brings their attention back to Evie. This time the victim is her fiancé. Do the murders have something to do with Evie, or is it a coincidence that the victims were her ex and current lovers?

Again, Cleeves creates a twisty and suspenseful mystery for Jimmy Perez to figure out. Her characters are convincing, and we are truly interested in their fates.

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Day 1270: Red Bones

Cover for Red BonesHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge!

* * *

In this third book of Ann Cleeves’s Shetland series, Sandy Wilson, an officer at the Lerwick station, is visiting his parents on Whalsay Island when he discovers the dead body of his grandmother, Mima. The death appears to be an accident. A neighbor out hunting may have hit her in the dark. But what was she doing outside in the first place at that time of night?

Jimmy Perez comes over briefly to look into the death, but although he feels something is wrong, he has no evidence to indicate that anything different has happened. After he returns to Lerwick, though, he gets a call from Hattie, an archaeology student working on a dig on Mima’s property. She says she must talk to him and asks him to return. When he gets back, she too is dead of an apparent suicide.

To Jimmy, it just doesn’t make sense that she would make an appointment with him and then commit suicide. In fact, most people who knew her said she seemed happier than usual.

Jimmy is waiting for carbon dating of some old bones found on the site. But he begins to feel that the island is full of secrets.

This was another good mystery in the Shetland series. The series has an appealing detective and an evocative setting. I’m enjoying it.

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Day 1254: White Nights

Cover for White NightsIn the small settlement of Biddista, isolated from the rest of Mainland Island of the Shetlands, an art opening is taking place. Detective Jimmy Perez is surprised by how few people attend. It is summertime, the white nights, and lots of tourists are on the island. His friend Fran is showing her work, but so is the famous artist Bella Sinclair. Further, Bella’s even more famous nephew, Roddy Sinclair, is performing.

In the gallery, there is a small scene. A man falls to his knees and begins weeping. When Jimmy takes him to the kitchen, he says he can’t remember anything. He has no identifying information on him. When Jimmy leaves the room to see if he brought a bag, he disappears.

The next morning, Kenny Thomson, a nearby crofter, finds the body of a man hanging in his fish house. Bizarrely, the body is wearing a mask. Jimmy soon identifies the body as the man he spoke to the night before. No one knows who he is, however. Jimmy discovers that a masked man was handing out flyers in Lerwick stating that the gallery show was cancelled, thus explaining the low attendance.

Why would this man have pulled such a malicious trick on Fran and Bella? Both women claim not to recognize him. In the meantime, Inspector Taylor is coming from the mainland to take over the case.

Almost immediately, I felt that this case was connected to the disappearance long ago of Kenny’s brother Laurence. I wondered, for example, if the dead man could be Laurence returned. Rumor had it that Bella rejected him all those years back, and that’s why he left.

But Cleeves completely had me fooled about the identity of the murderer. This is a really clever mystery, and I enjoyed it.

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Day 1238: Raven Black

Cover for Raven BlackTo our delight, our local PBS station airs a lot of British and Australian mysteries. Even though most of them are older, we have not seen them before, so we are happy. Two series we have begun watching (and getting older ones from Netflix) are Vera and Shetland, both from the novels of Ann Cleeves. So, I looked for the first book in each series. Raven Black is the first novel of the series set in the Shetland Islands.

Magnus Tait is an old man hoping for visitors on Hogmanny. He hasn’t had any for years, though, ever since he was suspected in the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl years ago. But this year is different. Two drunken teenage girls, Catherine and Sally, stop by on their way home from a party.

The next day, Magnus sees Catherine on the bus, and she walks home with him. The day after, her body is found lying in a field by a neighbor. She has been strangled with her own scarf.

Immediately, the islanders, even many of the police, assume Magnus killed her. Inspector Jimmy Perez isn’t so sure there are similarities in the cases, but he’s not in charge. Instead, it’s Inspector Taylor, over from the mainland.

Who could have killed Catherine? Was it Mr. Scott, her teacher, who invited her over after school to discuss extracurricular reading? Robert Isbister, a grown man that Sally likes, has been asking questions about Catherine. She was seen talking to Duncan Hunter, an ex-school friend of Perez’s, at one of his wild parties. Or was it Magnus?

This novel is absorbing, although I thought it could have been more atmospheric, given the setting. I liked Jimmy Perez, though, and I never guessed the murderer or the motive. (I missed the first episode of this series on TV, which was this one.) That, I have to tell you, doesn’t happen often.

As an aside, I love the theme music for Shetland, and just rereading this review before publication has brought it to mind.

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