Cleeves, Ann. Dead Water.

NY: St. Martin, 2013.

I started this sixth “Shetlands” mystery novel with a few misgivings, considering how the previous volume ended. Inspector Jimmy Perez has been on leave for six months, staring bleakly into a dark future without Fran. The only thing keeping him going at all is looking after her daughter, six-year-old Cassie, but he can’t seem to concentrate or even think about anything else but the absence of his fiancée.

And while the rest of the small police force he manages are trying to give him as much time and space as he needs, they’re beginning to become justifiably impatient. Should he just quit and be done with it? He’s certainly no use as a cop.

Then Rhona Laing, the carefully turned out and nearly unapproachable Procurator Fiscal (a sort of combination investigation manager and public prosecutor, an office which exists only in Scotland) discovers the dead body of Jerry Markham, an investigative journalist from London but originally from Shetland. Sergeant Sandy Wilson, who tries hard but seems always to get things wrong, can’t handle something this major so the mainland sends in Inspector Willow Reeves, a tall, disheveled woman, the product of her parents’ hippie commune in the Hebrides, and about as different from Perez as it’s possible to be. And it’s the first murder investigation in which she’s the SIO.

Markham was supposedly looking into a major story, according to his own parents, who own the local up-market hotel, but no one knows what it might have been. And Markham had his own history, including getting a naïve local girl, Evie Watt, pregnant and then running off and leaving her. Now Evie, older and with a responsible job, is engaged to a man everyone admires and approves of — but then, a few days before the wedding, he’s found murdered, too.

Despite himself, and with his own misgivings, Perez gradually edges his way into the investigation, being a natural detective who really can’t sit on the sidelines while things are happening, but also being somewhat fascinated by Willow Reeves (and feeling guilty about it). And his legendary patience and stillness in dealing with witnesses and suspects is just what the case needs. It’s a complicated plot of betrayal and transformation, with perhaps a larger cast of characters than usual, but it’s mostly handled with the author’s usual adroit narrative style. And, as in all this series, the setting of the Shetland Islands themselves are almost a character. “Shetland didn’t do pretty. It did wild and bleak and dramatic.”

The only weak part, in my opinion, is the character of Willow Reeves herself. She comes across as rather cardboard compared to everyone else, as if she were only a representation of someone called Odd Character rather than a fully developed player in her own right. Cleeves is usually very good at character and I have always had no problem picturing them all in my mind, even the minor supporting players. But Reeves remains fuzzy and not a real person.

That’s a minor carp, though, and this one adds to the reasons why any fan of police procedurals should add this series to their shelf.

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