RogerBW's Blog

White Nights, Ann Cleeves 16 June 2019

2008 mystery; second in Cleeves' Shetland Island series. A stranger turns up at the opening of an art show, and claims to have lost his memory; later, he's found hanged in a boathouse. DI Jimmy Perez investigates.

As usual with Cleeves, nobody comes off terribly well here, even if they don't turn out to be the murderer. However, one obvious suspect is made more interesting by Perez's awareness of his own dislike for him: Perez would like him to be the villain, and so has to be careful not to read too much into the small signs of guilt that everyone throws off in a story like this.

There's friction again between Perez and Mike Taylor, the senior policeman from Inverness brought in to run the case; but here it feels wrong, because Perez and Taylor established a good working relationship last time (six months ago in their chronology) and I was surprised that they couldn't pick that up again but rather had to start from scratch. Still, at least some of the friction is from Perez' own unwillingness to put himself and his ideas forward, which is echoed in the slow progress of his relationship with Fran Hunter.

The plot is one of those "shadows from the past" setups that Cleeves tends to favour, but at least it's not a matter of lots of people keeping a common secret (which can be desperately annoying). Various suspicious characters are dropped when they become clearly not part of the primary investigation, and I'd have liked to know more about their stories.

The exotic backdrop is used effectively: bodies have to be shipped off the islands for autopsy, there are only so many ways for someone to get in or out, and outsiders are thrown by the sub-Arctic summer where while the sun may have set the sky never really gets dark. I didn't find there was much sense of location; is the village where the murder happened a long trip from Lerwick, or can one get there quickly? (All right, nowhere's really a long way from anywhere on Shetland, but the main island is some sixty miles long.)

Mind you, if you see a flyer that says "the gallery opening is cancelled", surely in 2008 the first place you look is at the gallery's web site to find out more? (I mean, I know I would, but I also know I'm atypical.)

This isn't my usual sort of mystery – indeed, it's marketed as a thriller, not that there's a lot of action – and one might argue that it's not really possible to work out who the killer is, but I still enjoyed it for the atmosphere and the people. Followed by Red Bones.

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Previous in series: Raven Black | Series: Shetland Island

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