This novel won the Crime Writers' Association Duncan Lawrie Dagger for 2006. It is the first Ann Cleeves book I've read, and it won't be the last. It's a neatly constructed crime novel, perfectly paced and beautifully written - the psychological crime novel meets the old-fashioned whodunit.
The novel begins at New Year in the Shetland home of elderly Magnus Tait. A few days later an incomer to the island, Fran Hunter, discovers the body of teenager Catherine Ross in the snow not far from the old man's house. The islanders believe Tait had murdered a young schoolgirl, Catriona Bruce, eight years before and are all certain who must have murdered Catherine. Thrown into this psychological mix is Jimmy Perez, the lonely detective assigned to the case. Jimmy is `emotional incontinent', and you would think he would have trouble suspecting anyone of murder. And yet, slowly but surely, he uncovers the strained relationships and hidden secrets that lead him to the killer.
The sense of place is tremendous - the cold and the isolation are tangible. And the author has captured perfectly the sense of a community seemingly united but with tensions and divisions just below the surface. There are echoes of the cult movie The Wicker Man, with the outsider policeman coming to Shetland to solve the murder against the background of the forthcoming Up Helly Aa fire festival.
There is a fairly large cast of characters, and therefore many suspects, but Ann Cleeves draws each of them well, giving them unique voices of their own. There are clues and red herrings, and I enjoyed trying to solve the mystery before Perez finally discovers the identity of the murderer. And despite my amateur sleuthing, I was completely wrong and satisfyingly surprised when the killer was revealed. The identity of Catriona's killer is also uncovered (I got that wrong, too!) as the novel reaches its satisfying climax.
There are three more novels promised in this series, and I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the next one.