Martin Edwards was discussing the pros & cons of reading a mystery series from the first book through to the end on his blog recently. Does it really matter if we jump in at Book 5 or 15? Some series, the classic puzzle type of mystery for instance, had very little character development so it didn’t matter where you started, the detective was very much the same. Modern detective series involve a much greater investment from the reader & we expect more than a cardboard cutout for a detective. I know I become fond of my favourite detectives, their colleagues & families. I want an update on Reg & Dora Wexford & their daughters or Kinsey Millhone & her neighbours. I’m on tenterhooks about the relationship between Daniel Kind & Hannah Scarlett in Martin Edwards’s Lake District series & I’m always happy to catch up with Wes Peterson & his boss Gerry Heffernan in Kate Ellis’s books. If the author is doing their job properly a new reader will soon find out all they need to know about a protagonist without regular readers becoming bored with the repetition of basic facts. Of course, it can be a little disconcerting to read the last book in a series first where there’s a dramatic climax to the stories of several major characters & then go back to the beginning & pick up Book 1.
Well, that’s what I’ve done with Ann Cleeves’s Shetland Quartet. I read the last book, Blue Lightning, first. I loved it so I went back to the beginning & read Raven Black. I’ve just finished White Nights & I have Red Bones on the tbr pile. Knowing the end of the story hasn’t spoiled the enjoyment of the earlier books. This is a wonderful series. Ann Cleeves deserves all the awards & praise she has won. The plots are great but, for me, it’s the setting & Detective Jimmy Perez that are so beguiling.
Shetland is a major character in these books. The weather, the landscape, the way of life of people who have lived there all their lives & the visitors & incomers who have just arrived. In White Nights, it’s summer. The sun never quite sets & in the white nights, people go a little crazy. Jimmy Perez attends the opening of an exhibition at a gallery, the herring House, in Biddista, a small village. Bella Sinclair, local identity & famous artist is exhibiting along with Fran Hunter. Fran & Jimmy’s relationship has moved from detective & witness in the first book to friendship & now, they’re ready to take the next step. Fran is English, divorced & living in Ravenswick with her daughter, Cassie. At the gallery, a stranger walks in, looks at some of the pictures, then collapses sobbing on the floor. Jimmy tries to find out who he is but he has no ID & he vanishes.
Next morning, the stranger is found hanging in a nearby shed. It looks like suicide, but the doctor confirms that it’s murder. Jimmy’s investigations are helped & hindered by the fact that he’s a local. He grew up on Fair Isle so he knows these people. The few families living in the area close ranks & Jimmy finds it hard going. His frustrations include having to work with a team from Inverness, led by Roy Taylor, an abrasive Liverpudlian who left his family’s expectations behind to join the police force & move as far away from home as possible. Taylor & Perez have worked together before & have a wary friendship. Taylor is frustrated by Jimmy’s slow, careful way of investigating but has to admit that he would get nowhere on his own. When a second murder is committed, Perez realises that the solution lies in the past.
I think anyone who enjoys a classic murder mystery would love this series. I was probably the last mystery reader in the world to catch up with Ann Cleeves but now I’m sorry I only have one more Shetland novel to read.