Blue Lightning, By Ann Cleeves

Death and dirty deeds dog Fair Isle

Reviewed,Jane Jakeman
Thursday 11 February 2010 01:00 GMT

This is the darkest of Ann Cleeves' absorbing series set in the Shetlands; crime novels which always manage to produce a clever twist within a small canvas. Detective Jimmy Perez arrives on Fair Isle, where he was born, to introduce Fran Hunter, his English fiancée, to his parents and other locals. They no longer spend their evenings knitting sweaters, but watching makeover programmes.

Fran senses that the wild elements make Fair Isle a dangerous place. There is a nasty event in a bird observatory, where a woman with massive sex appeal is discovered dead as the dodo, with feathers tastefully entwined in her hair. The victim was at the centre of a tangle of lust and jealousy among a small group cooped up to record bird migration. They include an angry teenage step-daughter, a jilted lover and a cook whose job is in peril, and not on account of her kedgeree.

Fran is an outsider on the island, but so is anyone beyond the small circle of bird-watchers, with their own lore and secrets. When a hurricane strikes, Jimmy finds he is on his own. A rare trumpeter swan is spotted. It will inevitably draw hundreds of "twitchers", but as yet the island is cut off both from police assistance and from hordes of bird-watchers.

"I'd kill to find a bird like this," says one of the suspects. Soon there is another murder. Meanwhile, Jimmy is discovering his parents' past and Fran, wanting to become involved in the community for Jimmy's sake, becomes deeply and dangerously enmeshed.

Jimmy also has to deal with his own feelings about the dead woman: had her sexual game- playing brought death upon her? He's a much deeper character than the usual detective, struggling with the puritanism of his upbringing as he also tries to work out the logistics of murder detection without police back-up, and tormented by doubts. Cleeves is excellent not just on the mystery, but on the atmosphere of Fair Isle, and the effect of its strange character on the human population.

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