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Cleeves, Ann - 'White Nights'
Hardback: 340 pages (Apr. 2008) Publisher: Macmillan ISBN: 0230014453

WHITE NIGHTS is the second book to feature the Shetland Island detective Jimmy Perez and the artist Fran Hunter. As the book opens, Fran and a local celebrity artist, Bella Sinclair, are about to hold a joint exhibition of their work at the Herring House, a gallery/cafe on Bella's land in the tiny hamlet of Biddista. An air of menace is subtly conveyed about the strangely low turnout at the exhibition, made even more puzzling given the presence of Bella's rock-star nephew, Roddy. Suddenly, a man bursts into tears in front of one of Fran's pictures. Jimmy takes him into the kitchen to calm down, but the man claims to have no idea of who he is, nor does he carry any identification. While Jimmy is seeing if any of the visitors know the man, he vanishes. As the disappointing evening ends, Jimmy is invited back to Fran's house, and his attention is otherwise engaged. The next morning, the crying man's dead body is found hanging in the boat shed on the beach.

With the discovery, Jimmy and his colleagues call in the irritable and ambitious Roy Taylor of the Inverness police to supervise the investigation. It rankles with Roy that Jimmy, and not he, solved their previous case (described in RAVEN BLACK), so he is determined to take a dominant role in this new case. He soon realises, however, that he has little patience for the slow pace of the Shetlands and leaves Jimmy to question the Biddista residents (four terraced houses, a farm and the large Sinclair house) while he goes to the mainland to follow what he sees as more promising leads there.

Jimmy soon discovers that the dead man was responsible for handing out leaflets on the day of the exhibition stating that the event had been cancelled owing to the death of a family member. What was his motive for this spiteful act? Even when his identity is discovered, there seems no reason for his actions.

The book is wonderful to read: powerful at conveying a way of life that has almost vanished; the daily routine of work and leisure; and the love and commitment that the islanders have for their land. The lives of the people who live in Biddista are entwined: they knew each other as children, being at school together whatever their social class, and there isn't much about each other's past that they don't know. The autocratic, egotistical Bella was in love with Lawrence, brother of the farmer, Kenny. Lawrence disappeared many years ago; at first Kenny thinks that the dead man is his lost brother, although this soon turns out not to be the case.

In the beginning of WHITE NIGHTS, Jimmy is unsure of Fran's feelings for him. As the story unfolds, their relationship strengthens, but the reader is excluded from knowing much about it.

Although the uncovering of the past, and the hunt for the identity of the mysterious man, are absorbing to read, the book fades out slightly towards the end. The story of Bella's youth, and the present-day identity of some of the admirers who hung around her at that time, is rather suddenly presented compared with the steady build-up of tension in the previous chapters. Seasoned crime-fiction readers will be ahead of the detectives on some (but not all) aspects of the investigation; and I found the killer, and motivation, implausible. However, don't let me put you off. Jimmy Perez is a memorable and attractive character; one strongly identifies with him, his concerns and his "beat" on the lonely but beautiful Shetlands.

Read another review of WHITE NIGHTS.

Maxine Clarke, England
May 2008

Maxine blogs at Petrona.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 23/08/2009 10:21