Cleeves, Ann. Thin Air.

NY: St. Martin, 2014.

It’s been a year now since Fran Hunter died, and while Inspector Jimmy Perez will never, ever forget her, he has at least returned to the world of the living and resumed his duties running the Shetland Islands’ small police force. This time, the story involves a party of six young professionals from London, three couples, who are visiting Unst, the northernmost island of the Shetlands — the most northerly community in the UK, in fact, a place where the sun never sets in midsummer.

Caroline has recently married Lowrie, a local working in the south, and they’re having a “hamefaring,” where the whole wedding party turns up to host a celebration for the folks back home. And then Eleanor Longstaff, an independent filmmaker, is found dead at the top of a cliff, posed like Ophelia in a pool of water.

The plot includes ghost stories and legends and (as always) a complex net of personal relationships. We see most of the action from the viewpoint of Polly Gilmour, a folklore librarian and Eleanor’s close friend, who is somewhat fragile for her own reasons. She might even be a suspect herself. Eleanor was the one who held the three women together as a group and now everything seems to be falling apart.

Unst has only a tiny population so the pool of suspects with whom Perez must deal is even smaller than usual, and he’s done all this before. Still, his superiors on the mainland decide to send in a supposedly more experienced homicide investigator — Willow Reeves, whom we met in the previous book, and who is now inexplicably a Chief Inspector. (How did she get promoted so quickly? When she has only just handled her first murder as Senior Investigating Officer?) In fact, it’s difficult to accept that she even made it to Inspector, since she’s impatient, misses clues, is brusque with witnesses, is jealous of her superior position, and just doesn’t seem to have it all together. She sometimes appears to realize it, too: “Willow wondered how he did it, how he seemed to know exactly what approach would work with a witness.” And “Willow wondered again what his magic was, how he managed to win people over.” I noted these shortcomings in the previous book, but Cleeves hasn’t corrected them, and that somewhat gets in the way of the story this time. It’s obvious that Perez could do a much better job with the case if he were just left to get on with things.

Still, it’s a pretty good story and a worthy entry in the series, and I’ll be waiting not very patiently for the next installment — but the author is going to have to somehow take DCI Reeves in hand. And omit the extra angst next time.

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