Monday, June 2, 2008

White Nights by Ann Cleeves

Published: MacMillan, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-230-01445-9

First line: The passengers streamed ashore from the cruise ship.

It's midsummer in the Shetland Isles, when the sun never quite sets, and the white nights make many people go a bit crazy.

In the remote village of Biddista, Detective Jimmy Perez is attending the opening of an art exhibition at the Herring House with his friend Fran Hunter, when an unknown Englishman suddenly collapses in tears. He claims to have forgotten who he is and why he is there. Perez tries to help the man, but when he briefly leaves him alone, the man disappears. The next morning he is found wearing a clown mask and hanging from a rafter in a boat shed. It doesn't take Perez long to realise that this is not suicide.

The squad from Inverness headed by Inspector Roy Taylor is called in. Taylor is still feeling put out that Perez solved the previous case they worked on together, and is determined that the solution to this case will be down to him. Their investigative styles are complete opposites, with Perez's slow methodical ways irritating the hyperactive Taylor. Surprisingly, they do end up working well together, although it takes a little time for them to get back to the easy camaraderie they had in the previous book.

The investigation centres on Biddista, a community of about half a dozen homes, where almost all the inhabitants are connected by family or childhood friendships. Perez believes the dead man may not have been as much of a stranger as everyone is claiming. He suspects the murderer is a local, and that the death is related to events in the past. A second murder seems to confirm this theory.

The investigation is intriguing, as the hunt for clues to the victim's identity, and the subsequent search for the connections that would lead to his murderer moves from the Shetlands to Yorkshire and back again. Cleeves kept me guessing until the last moment. But it is the characters and their stories that make this such an absorbing read. From the prickly relationship between Perez and Taylor, to Perez's developing relationship with Fran Hunter, to the inhabitants of Biddista and their intertwined histories, they are all fascinating and very real people.

White Nights is the eagerly awaited second book in the Shetland Quartet, and it doesn't disappoint. The first, Raven Black, won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for best crime novel in 2006.

Ann Cleeves' website:

A warning if you don't like to know too much before reading a book: The back cover blurb, at least on my copy, contains a spoiler, mentioning an event that doesn’t occur until more than halfway through the book. For me, a blurb should give specifics of the plot for things that happen in the first 20-30 pages only. After that it needs to be quite vague. It's ok to say that there are more murders, but not to let on who may be on the victim list.


  1. I've just read this book and enjoyed it very much. I don't like "voyeuristic" books, but I did find it a bit odd that after all the "will they won't they" build up between Jimmy and Fran, that in the event the curtain is drawn quite so firmly when they do get it together.
    Also I felt that the denoument was a bit unlikely -- what had happened to the "long ago missing person" was fairly obvious, I didn't mind that so much as the identity and motivation of the murderer, which did not ring true to me.

    These are caveats though, I did enjoy reading the book very much and loved the atmosphere of life in Biddista (history and present day) and the island more generally.

    Agree with you about blurbs, I try not to read them until I've read the book, but sometimes you have to find out about a book somehow!

  2. I know what you mean about Jimmy and Fran, but I guess it was in keeping with the very low key nature of their relationship up to that point.

    And I did have a few niggles like you. The missing person case was obvious and I had it figured out quite early on. The murderer and their motivation did seem to come out of left field didn't they? But again, like you, it didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the book.

    There are so many good points with the characters, the place, and the plot as a whole, that I'm prepared to forgive the niggles.