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.