Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves. Macmillan, £16.99.
The final book in crime writer Ann Cleeves’ Shetland quartet opens benignly, with detective Jimmy Perez taking his fiancée to his Fair Isle home to meet his parents.
But the peace is short-lived and Cleeves starts the action, after the engagement hamefarin, with the shocking find of a body in the ostensibly safe surroundings of the Fair Isle field centre.
The isle is cut off thanks to autumn storms and Perez has to work without outside help in the claustrophic confines of the centre, where the bird-watching visitors still need to be fed and watered.
Breakfast bacon has to be fried and soup prepared for lunch while the body remains in a nearby room. And rare birds keep arriving in the isle, which is its normal claim to fame. Cleeves has a sharp eye for domestic details, which seem to add to the horror. Will there be a plastic bag big enough to contain the body? And where to store it until the emergency services can get to Fair Isle?
Perez and his capable family solve some of the logistics (as is usually the case in an island), but in a suspense-filled narrative the murder gets more baffling as time goes on.
Who could have done it? There are limited suspects so it should be relatively easy to solve the bizarre crime, shouldn’t it?
As the storms continue the tension in the field centre builds and the bleak isolation of the setting makes the situation almost unbearable. More and more is gradually revealed about the characters, and Cleeves controls the pace of revelation perfectly. The tantalising details show that most of the characters, a disparate crowd all convincingly depicted, have a motive of sorts. But how safe can anyone feel, and is the murderer about to strike again?
This is a slow-burner of a novel which smoulders intruigingly before the pace gathers. It produces a great and unexpected ending, making the book a grand finale to the Shetland series and regarded by many as being the best of the quartet.
Shetland readers will find it thoroughly enjoyable, with its depiction of real places and real people (as in Fair Isle weather man Dave Wheeler) and others who have donated money to a charity to be featured in the book. Throughout it all Cleeves does a remarkable job in capturing the Shetland atmosphere and way of life.