Winning the prestigious Crime Writer’s Association Dagger for best crime novel did not necessarily glean for Cleeves the kind of kudos she clearly deserves -- although the remarkable Raven Black
no doubt enjoyed a welcome sale fillip. A new TV series with Brenda Blethyn may do the trick, and it won't be a moment too soon. If you doubt this encomium to Ann Cleeves’ writing skills, do yourself a favour and pick up her latest, Blue Lightning
-- a further demonstration of her considerable narrative skills and (her ace in the hole) persuasive evocation of atmosphere. Her Shetland detective Jimmy Perez is not looking forward to his journey to the Fair Isles. It is (famously) a very tight-knit community, which does not extend open arms to incomers. As Jimmy knows, the islanders are a hardy breed -- and they need to be, as winter approaches with its inevitable storms, making an already insular community close in further upon itself. It is in this pressure cooker atmosphere that murder takes place (this is an Ann Cleeves novel, after all) and the body of a woman is found with her hair laced with feathers. With the locals in a furious and fractious mood, it’s up to Jimmy to investigate the killing as quickly and efficiently as he can; not an easy task, as he has no resources to call on except his own. And as the clock ticks, the inevitability of another murder looms ever larger.
As in Ann Cleeves’ earlier Shetland mysteries, the trick here is to utilise the apparatus of the Christie-style murder mystery (most notably the cloistered, cut-off setting) and reinvigorate it with a healthy dose of plausible contemporary psychology. This Cleeves does splendidly, and even though Jimmy Perez may be a familiar kind of figure to those who read a great deal of crime fiction, there are still some canny changes that the author is able to ring on the familiar formula. Best of all, though, is the skill with which she evokes the experience of being on these dangerous islands; the author is a well-known aficionado of Scandinavian crime fiction, and she is able to transmit that Nordic feeling into her own exemplary work. --Barry Forshaw
'Jimmy Perez takes his fiancée to Fair Isle to meet his parents, but when bad weather cuts off the island and a body is found at its bird observatory, where sexual tension and professional rivalry are rife, he takes charge of the investigation. Perez alone realises the murderer is still on the island and prepared to kill again, leading to events that make him question his career...' --Sunday Times
'Blue Lightening crackles with atmosphere and tension... It's meticulous crime fiction which does its job outstandingly of whisking the reader away to other worlds, and provides the reader with an almighty jolt just as it seems to be plain sailing at the end. And it's made me want to investigate those earlier books in the series' --reviewingtheevidence.com
'The thriller writer Ann Cleeves has really hit her stride with the series of novels she is currently writing in the Shetlands (the islands are principal characters in the books). This year's Blue Lightning is the last and best in the series. Be warned: it has a surprise ending of real emotional punch.' --John Lancaster, Telegraph Review
'If you are looking for a well-crafted Agatha Christie-type murder mystery with a strong atmosphere, you cannot do better than Ann Cleeves'
--Lady Antonia Fraser, The Lady