Cleeves, Ann. Blue Lightning.

NY: St. Martin, 2010.

This is the fourth in the author’s series of police procedural murder mysteries set in the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland, between the Atlantic and the North Sea, and I think it’s the best yet. Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, head of the small Shetlands police force, hails from Fair Isle, the most distant of the islands — in fact, the most remote inhabited spot in the entire United Kingdom.

It’s so far from everything else, he had to board at the high school in Lerwick when he was young rather than traveling the four hours to and from home every day. Fair Isle is famous for two things — sweaters and bird-watching — and the latter is a major theme this time.

Perez is now officially engaged to Fran, the English artist with the young daughter whom he met in the first book, and he has brought her to the Isle to meet his parents. Even though it’s the second time for both of them, he’s more nervous about this than she is, but it all goes pretty well.

Also on the Isle is an old lighthouse (now automated) and its outbuildings which have been repurposed as a government-run wildlife field center, and which is the magnet that draws the birders every year. The full-time “warden” — the resident scientist, that is — is Angela Moore, a noted author and BBC celebrity. She’s also, we discover, a manipulative and demanding woman who causes trouble for her own amusement, and who sleeps with whatever young men take her fancy, both visitors and locals, while her much older husband, Maurice (who left his own wife for her) runs the administrative side of things at the center. And then Angela is dead in her study with a knife in her back.

Perez is already on the spot, of course, so he takes over, even though he has no professional or forensic support, and no one is coming in for a few days because of a spate of bad weather. We meet the handful of suspects — limited because the field center was locked from the inside that night — and Cleeves shows us what makes them tick, especially the geekish Dougie Barr, an avid birder who yearns for the sight of a truly rare migrant that would make his reputation. And then, rather unexpectedly for the reader, there’s a second murder, one of the staff this time, and Perez really has his hands full. And things are made even more difficult when he discovers the involvement of a member of his own family.

Cleeves is very good with character development and descriptive passages as well as tense action scenes. But the final couple of chapters, I have to say, were somewhat unsettling. Even upsetting, if you’ve enjoyed this series and these people as much as I have. I’m going to have to wait a bit before picking up the next one.

Published in: on 11 June 2016 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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