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==Synopsis of the book:==
Two young students, Hattie and Sophie are working on an archaeological dig in the Island of Whalsay in the Shetland Islands. They have been working for several weeks on the site and very quickly found a very old skull that looks like it been there hundreds of years. The girls are doing this work as volunteers for their Ph.D. This land is beautiful, but bleak and the girls are very pleased to have an old lady Mina whose land the work is being carried out on for support and friendship.
However this old lady is shot one night in what appears to be a tragic accident. As Ronald Clouston having had a few beers decides to go out and shoot a few rabbits. This brings Detective Jimmy Perez to investigate and with some reservations he agrees that this distraught man must have somehow lost his bearings and inadvertently shot her. However Jimmy is surprised at the silence that his work is met by and he soon starts to feel there is more than meet the eye with these old families and the secrets they are holding.
==My thoughts on the novel:==
Generally I thought this was quite a good Detective story. And to that end there were features I liked about it and others that disappointed me about it. For me it was good to get back to a more serious crime thriller as the last few weeks I have reviewed several that have been less detailed and lacking the depth to challenge or make the reader think. As this book certainly did and as a result there was always mystery about it as both the Detectives and I tried to find the truth as to what was going on on this remote Scottish Island.
For me that is one of the beauties of this series of stories their location. The series has has now five stories within it, with this being the third published in 2009. I really enjoy learning about these amazing Islands with their unusual traditions and very different way of life. The author really excels at describing the countryside showing both its beauty and its starkness. I often feel through her words I understand what it is like to live within these communities and I find myself intruged by them.
This is the fourth story of the five that I have read so when I purchased this one I had a fair idea what to expect. I like crime thrillers that are different in some way from the norm either the Detective or the setting and these stories certainly have a very different and amazing setting. I do not know what knowledge the author Ann Cleeves has of the Islands but she certainly describes it vividly. It is a real pleasure to pick up a book from this series as it is so different and for me still fresh. In total Ann has written 26 novels although the majority of these have been within four separate series, with her specialism being crime fiction. I would probably compare her writing style to Peter Robinson or Ann Granger.
It was not a difficult choice to but this book when I spotted it in the Charity Shop last week. Having enjoyed all the previous novel in this series I bought this one with some confidence that it would be a good thriller and one that would would entertain and make me think. For me those are the best thrillers that involve the reader and make them think about what they are reading and ask questions about what is happening. Added to this my copy had a compliment by one of my favourite authors on the front cover so I thought it Peter James likes this then I probably will to as I love this thrillers.
What is slightly unusual of the first four books is they all have a colour in their title and while the author in my opinion does not exploit this angle enough it is certainly different. The summary of the story is shorter than mine above and gives much more away than mine too. It is just a few lines long but has impact and really brings out some of the threads within the story. For me it gives a little too much away and I felt he could have created as much mystery and suspense by talking about the two girls at the dog and the old woman Mina whose land they are working on. That said it certainly did not put me off.
The first thing I really noticed when I started reading the story was how easy it was to get into. Although in hindsight I do question the need for the short first chapter of the birth of a boy to one of the traditional families of Whalsay. The chapters tended to be short and snappy and this is always a good thing for me as long drawn out ones often lose their impact on me and I lose concentration. I liked the start to the story as it was quite different as the author sort to explain exactly what was happening on the Island.
Although I must admit I did struggle to remember exactly who was who and who was related to who in which family. To my disappointment this did not get any easier the further I read into the story and I found I needed more help and guidance than I really got from the author. In many ways this changed what could have been a very good story just into a good one. As I think this meant I missed clues and as the story unfolded I found I was way behind the Detective and wondering how he managed to work certain things out.
The story though had a good feel to it and I enjoyed the way the author does not just right from the main Detectives viewpoint. This allows the reader to understand and appreciate why certain characters are acting as they are and what is behind their actions. I think the writer is very good at this. Added to which she does not give much away about them thus creating a bit of mystery around them all.
I enjoyed the pace of the story and because it was well written I had no idea what would happen next within it. It was just enjoyable the way different strands were brought into it and some were discarded as the story moved on. The story had a few surprises along the way but for me at least no really clever twists that I always enjoy. It all made sense without stimulating or making me feel I was reading something unique.
Although I did enjoy the ending of the book. I liked the conclusion and I was very grateful that Perez explained it in enough detail for me to clearly understand. It maybe lacked the fast pace that I expected but it was thick in mystery and suspense and I did not have a clue what was going to happen. And yet maybe if the author had helped me more so I remembered who was related to who then it would have been better for me.
Detective Jimmy Perez is the series main character. I find him a very down to earth character and one it is easy to relate to and also like. For me he is quite an old fashioned Detective as he goes about digging and using his intelligence, knowledge and skill to try and solve mysteries. However in this one while he was involved I liked the way he used a junior colleague who knew the people far better than he did to help him. This I enjoyed because this man in some ways was a bit of a loose canon.
I thought the books length was spot on to tell an interesting and at times gripping story. And while I do not necessarily think it was quite as good as some of the others in the series I still enjoyed it. Especially learning more about this unusual Island and its people who live a very different life from the majority of us. The story was always good without being fascinating.
I would on balance just about recommend this thriller. However I would say that for me there are better stories in this series than this one. My main problem was understanding and remembering who was who and who they were related to and as this was an important aspect in the Island life it was a problem for me. Maybe I should have concentrated more!! Although I did really enjoy the insight into what it was like to live on this amazing Island.
Price: 5.59 new at Amazon
Publisher: Pan Books
Year first published: 2009
More about the author: www.anncleeves.com
Thanks for reading my review.
This review is published on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my user name.
© CPTDANIELS September 2013
Catherine Ross is mature beyond her sixteen years and, as an incomer to Shetland, finds it frustratingly restrictive. However, her maturity doesn't stop her from becoming murdered and it is down to her neighbour, another incomer called Fran Hunter, to find her body. The immediate suspect is an elderly loner who lives nearby, Magnus Tait, especially as he was suspecting of causing the disappearance of another girl several years before. Jimmy Perez, a local detective, is soon on the case, aided by a team of detectives brought over from Inverness. Perez is not convinced that Tait is responsible for Catherine's death. There are a great many other potential suspects and it certainly seems as though most of them are hiding something. Can he tease out the information he needs before an innocent man is accused of murder? Or is the obvious choice the real murderer all the way along?
This is the first book in the 'Shetland Quartet' by Ann Cleeves, featuring Jimmy Perez who, despite his name, was born and bred on Fairisle. Although he is not the most exciting of fictional detectives, the author does make some effort to give him a real personality. Originally from Fairisle, his mother now wants him to return and run a croft and, following his divorce from Sarah a few years before, Perez is seriously considering this. His job is usually fairly routine, so Catherine Ross' murder is a real challenge for him - probably something he needed for his own peace of mind. It's a great start to a character, who is clearly going to grow throughout the course of the quartet and, along with the other characters in the book, he provides a real reason to keep reading.
There are a number of other characters in the book who play an important part, none more so than the murdered girl herself. Catherine Ross is not a particularly pleasant girl. She is perhaps too clever for her own good and certainly comes across as patronising and rude to both adults and her contemporaries. Throughout the book, as the story is revealed, the reader is able to really get under her skin and it is partially this that makes the book so readable. There is also much insight into her friend, Sally, who has a strict mother and feels increasingly isolated because of it, and Fran Hunter, who has a young daughter with a local man, from whom she is now divorced. Fran turns detective in the story, but it doesn't feel Miss Marpleish and unrealistic - instead it is very natural given the circumstances - a community where people do get together and talk about their fears and suspicions.
The setting, in Shetland, is well described in that the relationship between the local people feels very accurate. Life is a lot more old-fashioned than it is in most other places and anyone who doesn't fit in with the ideals of the islanders is frowned upon. However, the author could have gone to a little more effort to describe the surroundings. There is very little visual description of the islands and it seems like a wasted opportunity. There is some effort at the beginning of the book when Fran looks at the view around her house with an artist's eye - looking at the misty colours of the hills and sea. There is also a lot of description of the festival of Uphellyaa which takes place in January and is a backdrop to the book. Despite this, I still feel as though more effort could have been put into describing the scenery. It's not a major problem though, especially when the story is so good.
The plot is most definitely a good one. It really is compelling reading, because it is obvious that Magnus Tait could be the murderer, but that there are also a number of other suspects. Then the story of the previous girl who went missing is also woven in. The author has done an excellent job of building up the atmosphere, then leaving the reader in suspense for a few pages, before imparting the next bit of information. This pacing is really well done, because it is difficult to put the book down without wondering what will happen in the next page or two. The ending is almost impossible to work out. I had a number of thoughts on who the real murderer was, but I was completely wrong, and suspect that the majority of people are going to have the same problem. This makes reaching the end of the book just that bit more satisfying. Then there is a great cliffhanger for Perez right at the end of the book that prepares the way for the next book.
The book is very well-written for a work of crime fiction. It isn't overly literary in any way, but the language flows well and creates the right atmosphere for a murder mystery. Generally, it felt as though the book had been well-thought out, from the language used, to the length of the chapters. This is a fairly chunky book and it takes some time to read, but because of the way that the book is cut up, feeding the reader chunks of information before skipping on to something else, it is very easy to read quickly. For the beginning of a quartet, it is certainly very promising and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
My only regret with this book is that I have already read the third book in the series, Red Bones, and so have some idea of what happens to Jimmy Perez in the second book. For any newcomers to the series, I strongly recommend starting with this one. It really sets the scene, introduces the characters (some of whom reappear in the series) and generally whets the appetite. That isn't to say that Red Bones isn't a good book, because it is, but this is one series that would really be beneficial to read them in order. This is an excellent book, one I enjoyed from start to finish, and anyone with an interest in crime fiction and/or life in Shetland will almost certainly find it as enjoyable as I did. Highly recommended.
The book is available from Amazon for £4.04. Published by Pan, it has 320 pages. ISBN-10: 0330512943