Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Blue Lightning: review


I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Ann Cleeves’ latest novel, Blue Lightning, which is billed as ‘the final instalment in the award-winning Shetland Quartet’, and I read it with much pleasure over the Christmas holiday period. Now it has been published by Macmillan, and – whilst declaring my interest as an old friend of Ann’s, and a fellow member of Murder Squad – I can recommend it wholeheartedly as perhaps the best book yet from a truly accomplished writer.

I love islands, and the atmosphere of Shetland is splendidly evoked, from the opening scene when Jimmy Perez is bringing Fran, to whom he is devoted, by plane to Fair Isle, where he comes from. Fran is to be introduced to Jimmy’s parents, but soon murder interrupts the visit. The victim is a scientist called Angela, an expert in ornithology – and the killer has threaded feathers through her hair.

We are presented with a classic example of the ‘closed circle’ mystery, where the culprit can only be one of a limited number of people on the island. This type of story makes real demands of a modern author – how do you maintain suspense, while remaining true to character? The answer lies in a combination of good writing and careful structuring of the story. The pace develops steadily and is never allowed to flag.

What makes this book especially notable, however, is the extremely poignant ending. For me, the final plot development was quite unexpected and will stay in my mind for a long time. I’ve enjoyed Ann Cleeves’ books since before we first met, and I’m delighted to say that, in my opinion, this is a fine mystery which deserves all the acclaim that I’m sure it will receive.

This is a big year for Ann, as it sees the start of the television career of her detective Vera Stanhope. In the meantime, I've asked Ann to contribute a guest piece about her approach to writing Blue Lightning and this will appear shortly.

13 comments:

Fiona said...

Martin, I read the first of the Quartet recently because of your recommendation and found it brilliant! I have spread the word among friends and am looking forward to the rest of the series (and more of Anne's books generally); I'm so pleased this one has appeared in such a timely manner for my benefit!

I expect you know that Raven Black was dramatised on Radio 4 last week? I was sorry I missed it.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I love unexpected endings, and the setting sounds gorgeous. I'll check this one out.

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Maxine said...

I thoroughly agree with your review, Martin. I too was lucky enough to obtain a review copy (via the publisher and Euro Crime) and my review came out at Euro Crime the Sunday before last.
http://www.eurocrime.co.uk/reviews/Blue_Lightning.html
I think it is a marvellous novel, though you do have to have read the previous three to enjoy it to the full, I think.
I did see a rumour somewhere that Ann is thinking of writing a fifth novel in the series, do you know anything about that?

At risk of seeming what i am not, which is an insincere flatterer, I read your novel The Serpent Pool immediately after Blue Lightning and I think that your Lake District series and Ann's Shetland series are by far and away the best detective series being written in the UK today - and I read a lot of them! (I have only read one "Vera" book and one "Harry Devlin" book but hope to rectify that relatively soon.)

Martin Edwards said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Ann's book, Fiona. I too missed the radio play, unfortunately, but I hope to catch up with it at a future date.

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, the location scenes are not only lovingly described, but totally believable.

Martin Edwards said...

Maxine, many thanks. I think Ann would find it hard to resist doing a fifth book, such has been the success of the series. The big challenge, I guess, would be the fact that people who start with book 5 will be aware of the major development at the end of book 4 before they have read it. This is the sort of challenge that comes with writing a series in which the characters' lives develop. Not such an issue with Poirot and Marple!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sometimes I realize I am never going to have the chance to read all the writers I want to read. But tv series sort of saves me.

Martin Edwards said...

I know what you mean, Patti. And as for those unopened DVD box sets....

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Please stop by my blog. Something awaits you there : ).

Ann Elle Altman said...

I haven't read that series, I want to go and check them out. It looks like your other commenters are in love with it also.

ann

Dorte H said...

I am happy that I have Blue Lightning on my TBR (as Maxine was kind enough to send it on to me), but as I have not read no 2 and 3 yet, I have just ordered the second so I can catch up with the series.

I am looking forward to Ann´s guest post.

Maxine said...

Martin, you make a very good point about the penalties of authors who write series in which the characters develop. However, I do urge authors to do this, because these are the best books and this is why the series by you and Ann Cleeves are, in my view, far superior to many more forumulaic efforts.
However, maybe you should not take my advice because look at the success of authors like James Patterson.
Anyway, from the readers' perspective, it is far more satisfying to read about characters changing and evolving, rather than to read predictable accounts.

Martin Edwards said...

Maxine, thank you; there is a very interesting point for consideration here, in terms of the crime writer's art. How does one develop a series in such a way that readers can come in at any point, and not find that the earlier books have been 'spoiled' because some of the original secrets have been revealed? My method has been to leave deliberate gaps in the backstory of the main characters, that can be filled as the series moves on. But it would be possible to be more methodical than I have been, and it would be interesting to find an author who planned things out better than I do. The trouble is, you would need to have a guarantee that a significant number of books in the same series would be published, and not many authors (or publishers) want to commit to that extent at the outset.