Sunday, August 17, 2008

a review of "White Nights"

White Nights: A Thriller (Shetland Island Quartet) by Ann Cleeves

“White Nights” is the second in what the author calls her “Shetland Island Quartet” and that is a grand thing. Grand, because now I know I can go back and read the first in the series, Raven Black, and still have two more books to look forward to in the future. Excellent!
And while I understand that some of the same characters that were in the first reappear in the book, it is certainly not necessary to have read the first to totally enjoy this one.
It is lovely to discover a 'new' author whose books you have not read and have a nice little bunch of books now to look forward to reading and enjoying as much as I enjoyed this book.

The story opens with a cruise ship arriving in the Shetland town of Lerwick.
“The sun was bouncing off the still water and the great white hull was so bright that you had to squint to look at it. In the car park, a fleet of buses waited: the tourists would be taken to the archaeological sites in the south, to see the seabird cliffs to photograph the puffins, and for a guided tour of the silverworks. At some point there would be a stop for a Shetland high tea.”
Now I don't know about you, but any books that has puffins in the first page...well, that portents great things ahead for me.

Police Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez and his friend, Fran Hunter, are about to go to an art showing at a local gallery in the town of Biddista. For Perez, he hopes this will be the chance to find out if their relationship will move beyond friendship in the future, for Fran, it is the first gallery showing of her art. But things are not to go smoothly. Few people show up for the show, a bizarre stranger causes a scene, and the next morning, the same man is found dead, hanging in a storage building on the beach. Although there was an attempt to make it look otherwise, the death was certainly murder and all the people connected with the small seaside community are suspect in the investigation, carried on by Perez and later, the Inverness police team brought in, headed by Inspector Roy Taylor.

The atmosphere of the book is engaging. Summer in the islands, because of the latitude, has only a few hours of dusty night each day and the constant light is said to have a crazy effect on people. Combine that with the constant presence of the sea, the treeless windswept hills, dotted with sheep, the fog off shore, always threatening to roll in once again, and the Shetlands themselves are almost like another character in the story.

Not to say that the characters themselves are not very good, because they are. Yes, it is a small community where many people are related and, if not, have often known each others all their lives. They think that they know everything about their neighbors but it turns out everyone, the locals and the outsiders alike, have their secrets. And those secrets are yet to take another great toll on the townsfolk.

If I have any negative point about the book, it might be the ending. The conclusion seemed just a wee bit off. Yes, the clues were there, but when we find out the villain, instead of saying
“Of Course! Why didn't I see that?”, I found myself say “OK, yes, I guess that makes sense”. Not a perfectly fair ending from the information we were given perhaps.

But that is a small point overall. This was a fine book, an excellent setting, very good characters, large and small, a engaging story and a very good read. I would certainly recommend it to mystery fans and I know I will be searching out more of Ann Cleeves books.


  1. Thanks for that review. You might like to check out Ann's web site, just updated with news of her US tour.

    As well as the Shetland Quartet, which is being published by St Martin's Minatour, her earlier The Sleeping and the Dead is available from Bloody Brits.

    Roger Cornwell (Ann's webmaster)

  2. You, and Ms. Cleeves, are certainly welcome.

    As I said, it is a great pleasure to find an author that you have not read before, that you enjoy as much as I enjoyed her work in 'White Nights', and who has other books out there that look forward to reading.

  3. Ooh, a mystery author I wasn't familiar with before reading this review. Thanks! I'm looking forward to reading her books.

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  5. very good! then my work here is done.
    i do hope you enjoy them. i just ordered the first one in the series as well.


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