This is the first Ann Cleeves mystery I have read. It is number seven in the Shetland Islands series. It might make more sense to read these books in order, but not at all necessary. I had watched the television series “Shetland,” but not this particular story, so I was able to enjoy the book, not knowing the ending. One thing that surprised me was the description of Jimmy Perez, the chief officer of the small police force in Ravenswick. Characters more than once remark on Perez’s dark good looks, while the t.v. Perez is fair and doesn’t reflect the Spanish ancestry that Cleeves gave him.
The story is a suspenseful and well-plotted, and the bleak setting of the isolated islands off the northeast coast of England are perfectly described. While islands are often portrayed as places where it is impossible to keep a secret, one of the book’s characters remarks that secrets are necessary to preserve one’s sanity.
As the story opens, Perez is attending the burial of Mangus Tait, a character who has appeared in other stories. It is a misty, overcast day suitable for a funeral. Suddenly disaster strikes as a massive landslide descends on the mourners. Graves are overturned and slide down to the road below, cutting off the island’s towns from the airport and insuring that businesses and schools will be closed. After the immediate rescue efforts, it is discovered that a small croft home had been destroyed and the body of an attractive dark-haired woman was found near the ruins. Closer inspection showed that she had been strangled. What’s more, she is a stranger to the island and tracking her identity becomes part of the mystery which eventually leads to her murderer.
To help solve the mystery, Chief Inspector Willow Reeves from the mainland joins Jimmy. It would seem that these two have some history and are drawn together by what is more than mutual admiration. One of Cleeves’ strengths is that her characters are real and not stereotypes, and it is fun to see these two juggle professionalism with growing attraction. Perez is not the usual brooding and damaged mystery detective, though he must work through the loss of his wife who died in one of the previous books. He is a more normal character trying to balance being a dad with working long hours.
Mystery series are wildly popular and there are a number of good ones out there. I would recommend Ann Cleeves for her writing and intelligently thought out novels.