Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A review of "Blue Lightning" [72]

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves
Minotaur Books, ISBN 978-0312384357
368 pages, September 28, 2010

The final book in the Shetland Quartet starts with our old friend, police Detective Jimmy Perez, taking his fiancee, the artist Fran, to his home on Fair Isle to meet his parents. No sooner have they arrived than the island is cut off, a not unusual occurrence, by a vicious fall storm. With the small planes unable to fly and the sea too rough for the mail boat to make the crossing to the Shetlands, no one can arrive or leave, perhaps for days. Day and night the rain and hale pelts down, the wind rages, enough to almost drive you mad...or to drive you to violence.

Jimmy parents have arranged a party for the couple, to celebrate their engagement and introduce Fran to the islanders. The party is held at the island's lighthouse, whose buildings have been repurposed as the renowned Fair Isle bird observatory. But after the party guests have left, the doors locked for the night, with only the small staff and a handful of visiting birders inside, a terrible murder takes place, the body bizarrely decorated with a crown of bird feathers. And of course, while Jimmy is on vacation, as the only law enforcement on hand and no chance of any help arriving, it falls upon his shoulders to attempt to solve the crime alone. When a second murder occurs and some of the evidence is pointing just a bit too close to home, the suspense ratchets up even more until the book races to a conclusion that is both totally satisfying and completely shocking.

If you have read my reviews of the previous three books in the series, Raven Black, White Nights and Red Bones, you will know what a fan I am of Ms. Cleeves' books. So while I totally enjoyed this book and sincerely recommend the entire series to you, it is with a degree of sadness that I read it because as I turned the last page...the last shocking pages...I knew a very good and enjoyable thing was over. Do I gush too much? Well, I have reason, so get over it.

What makes these books so good? Well, in just the way that some of the mysteries I have read recently have fallen short, this book and the others in the series succeed.
First of all, there is the author's ability to capture the setting, whether the Shetlands or, in this case, Fair Isle, so well and yet so seeming effortlessly. I have never been there and let I feel in a way that I have...and want to return. Yes, it is the sort of setting I love, cliffs and lighthouse and crashing waves but what I love the most is how well she captures the sense of the place. Of course, as I found from her web site, she speaks from actually experience.
"While she was cooking in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, she met her husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist. She was attracted less by the ornithology than the bottle of malt whisky she saw in his rucksack when she showed him his room. Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person's not heavily into birds - and Ann isn't - there's not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing."
Lucky for us, her fans.

Then there are the characters. It is not just the major characters that we have meet through the four books, Jimmy and his co-workers, Fran and her daughter, that are so well written that we feel we know them, it is every minor character as well. And once again, it is so skillfully done that we never see it happening. And of course, there is an excellent story, just a darn good mystery. This is a classic 'locked room' mystery. There are only a limited number of suspects...and I still did not figure it out. When it is explained, all the facts were there, all the little clues artfully weaved in, totally fair, and I had not figured it out...and I loved it. And finally, as is befitting of a series finale, there is a totally surprising and shocking ending that will leave fans...well...shocked. Shocked and surprised and sad and happy and entertained..and what more can you want from a book?

A warning...please DO NOT start with this book. No, my dear reader, for maximum enjoyment, start at the beginning and know that you will have three more very enjoyable books ahead of you to read, you lucky devils.

My very sincere thanks to Ann Cleeves for sending to me a lovely signed copy of the British edition of Blue Lightning, the one with a lighthouse on the cover. Unlike the American edition, released today, that for some senseless reason does not have a lighthouse on the cover. I think she took pity on me and my slight obsession and for that I am thankful.
But please, don't let that stop you! Once you turn to the first page it will make no difference.
But I still love my lighthouse.


  1. Caite! Did you say lighthouse? You know I am up to my ears in stuff, books that might not be read for two years, and I have promised myself "no more series" but how on earth can I resist your ravings? I just want to cry. I need to read this series badly.

  2. yes..a lighthouse!
    it is just four books and they are pretty fast reads. Or maybe it is just that I never put it down for a day....

  3. I'm ready to read this series now. All four books are available and I may just read them one right after another. Thanks for such a great review and also the advice to "read them in order". That's my mantra anyway, but you never know what others will decide. LOL

    Love the lighthouse, by the way.

  4. This series sounds fabulous. I really want to read it, but who knows when I'll find the time.

  5. A signed copy! Lucky you. She's a very talented writer... :D

  6. Kay, it is ideal to have the whole series available and not have to wait...

    Kathy...it is all about priorities!

    Kate, yes, I am lucky...and yes, she is a very talented writer.

  7. You're making a very strong case for this series.

  8. OK, OK, you've convinced me. I need another series like a dog needs fleas, but how can I resist? Thanks for the convincing reviews. I know I'll love them.


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