Monday, July 05, 2010

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves

Protagonist: Det. Jimmy Perez
Setting: Fair Isle
Rating: 5.0

Engaged now, Det. Jimmy Perez takes his fiancée, Fran Hunter, back home to Fair Isles to meet his parents, just as a fall storm starts brewing. Jimmy's parents have organized a party at North Light Field Centre, a bird observatory. The party is a success, but the next morning Jimmy is awoken early -- there's been a murder at the observatory. North Field's warden, Angela Moore, has been killed; the killer has woven white bird feathers though her dark long hair. With the storm now raging, it'll be days before other detectives and the forensics team can reach the island, so it's left to Jimmy to investigate.

Since the center was locked, it's obvious the killer is either a family member, one of the staff or one of the visitors, “twitchers” pursuing rare birds. Less obvious is who -- there are plenty of people who had reason to dislike Angela. In the midst of all this, one of the bird-watchers spots the first trumpeter swan seen in Britain. “I’d kill to find a bird like this,” one of the suspects proclaims. Yet another motive for murder!

This closed environment, with plenty of suspects, is a traditional mystery device. Cleeves even makes a nod to old-fashioned whodunits, with one of the characters contemplating, "There was an Agatha Christie book she'd read when she was a kid. A bunch of people on an island. Dying, one by one.”

But this is no Christie cozy. Amid the stark beauty of this isolated island, there’s a dark undercurrent. In fact, in the last of a quartet set in the Shetland Islands, Cleeves brings us a very dark book. (The quartet began with Raven Black, followed by White Nights and Red Bones, and I recommend reading them in order.) This atmospheric novel builds the tension slowly until its stunning denouement. I expected a good read, having liked the previous books. Blue Lightning delivers with a thunderous intensity.