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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Ann Cleeves' Shetland series - Books 3 & 4

Readers of my earlier posts on White Nights and Raven Black might remember that I was trying to get through this series quickly as I was excited to watch the BBC adaptation on television. Unfortunately it didn’t especially grab me after watching the first episode. As is often the case when a favourite book makes it onto the screen, the characters just weren't as engaging as they appear in my head! And the main problem was that the BBC started halfway through the series with Red Bones, which I hadn’t read at that point and I didn’t want it spoiling the book for me. So I gave up on the TV show and concentrated on the last two books in the series.

Here are a couple of mini-reviews of the third and fourth books in the Shetland series. I really enjoyed them, but does anybody else find crime fiction so hard to review sometimes? I have nothing but admiration for dedicated crime fiction bloggers who can write reviews that are so much more than a simple synopsis but also manage not to give away any spoilers.

Those who have enjoyed White Nights and Raven Black will already know Sandy Wilson as Jimmy Perez’s bumbling young sidekick, clumsy and a little careless. But in Red Bones we get to know him and the complicated dynamics of his family much better as his elderly grandmother is found shot in her garden. At first it seems like a tragic accident when one of the islanders confesses to taking pot-shots at stray rabbits in the dark at the time the death occurred. But Mima was a feisty old lady who knew all the gossip about everyone on the island, and something doesn't seem quite right about her demise. Suspicion is cast upon the Whalsay locals as well as a group of archaeologists who have been conducting a dig on Mima's land. Everybody is excited to dig up old coins and bits of pottery, but it’s only when human remains are found that they realise just how significant the site may be to Shetland history. Maybe some things should be left buried.

Red Bones didn’t capture my attention as much as the others in the series, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a good read. I just didn’t feel that the setting or characters were particularly memorable and the ending lacked the impact of the first two books in the quartet. I think it's worth reading as part of the series, but I wouldn't get too excited about it as a stand-alone novel.

For the final instalment in the Shetland series, Blue Lightning, we see Perez return home to Fair Isle at long last to introduce his fiancée, Fran, to his parents before they marry. It's a bleak setting - the weather is miserable and Jimmy is under pressure from old man Perez to return to the island for good and settle down there. But he doesn't have chance to ponder his domestic situation for too long because a murder has been committed at the bird observatory's hotel, and bad weather means that Fair Isle is inaccessible to the outside world. Perez has to deal with this one on his own.

This is by far my favourite of Cleeves' quartet. It is simply a wonderful mystery and very reminiscent of  Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ which is one of my favourites of all time. A small cast of suspects, strangers to each other and to the island, unable to leave and unable to access any assistance from outside. The tension is unbearable and I was left guessing until the last moment when the final event is revealed and comes as a real punch in the guts! This was a dark and thrilling ending to the whole series and as I have grown very fond of Jimmy, Fran, Sandy et al I am really sad that there will be no more.

I have been very impressed by Ann Cleeves' skill in twisting intricate plot strands together effortlessly and in creating realistic characters with great depth. I must try her Vera Stanhope books next. Can anybody recommend any more of her books to me?


  1. Yes, I do have trouble sometimes writing crime fiction reviews without revealing spoilers, because as a reader I don't want to know much more than the initial setup and overview of characters. And then I feel like I am saying the same thing over and over if the book is really good. But I have even more trouble talking about movies because I know less about the important elements of movies.

    I think your reviews are just fine.

    I have only read a couple of books from one of Cleeves earlier series (A Lesson In Dying and Murder In My Backyard) written in the early 1990's. I liked them, but they were standard police procedurals (as I remember them), with interesting characters. I have not read this series or the Vera Stanhope series, but want to sample both.

  2. I find reviews hard sometimes too Marie. In the last one I did 'Before I Burn' I think I've given away virtually all of the plot. I feels like a very unsatisfactory review. I've only read book 1 in this series which I enjoyed. I must read the others sometime.