Jimmy Perez is a recently returned native of Shetland, charged with investigating the murder of the young woman Catharine Ross. Everything points to Magnus Tait, a disturbed local man who knew the girl and was the main suspect when a young girl disappeared years earlier. But as more truths are revealed, and another body is found, it seems that there are several other equally plausible killers on the island…
Ann Cleeves has written over twenty crime novels in a variety of series – you may have seen the recent ITV series Vera, based on some of her work. So, have I found another author to obsess over and bore you, my faithful readers, with while I work through the entire back catalogue?
Let me start out by saying, this is an extremely accomplished book. It won the 2006 Duncan Lawrie Crime Novel of the Year, which is what the CWA Gold Dagger was called at that point, and it justly deserved it.
I mention in my review of The Tolls of Death that there was a problem with multiple points-of-view books. While it does help you to get a real feel for particular characters, it does have an issue with giving the murderer away or forcing the author to, effectively, cheat. Cleeves chooses here to give us the point of view of about five members of the cast, each with their own issues. Most effective are the chapters from Tait’s point of view – an uneducated, disturbed man, it’s fascinating how he sees the world and the events taking place. All the more remarkable is that it’s written in a way so that you believe that he could still be the murderer despite seeing things through his eyes.
As the book progresses, so do the events on the island, until the reveal of the killer – and it is a genuine surprise. I won’t say I guessed the wrong character… because it seemed clear to me that this wasn’t a book where you were supposed to work out the killer, just read along until the detective did.
It reminded me, while reading it, of my experience years ago of reading Val McDermid’s A Place of Execution. It’s a remarkably well-written book, but the ending was a letdown, in that case as I’d guessed the twist very early on. As such, plot-driven as I am, I was disappointed with the book – 400+ pages to get to something that I knew was coming. In this case, I didn’t know what was going to happen but I found myself thinking that if the ending was a washout, I’d feel like I’d wasted my time on this one.
Well, happily that wasn’t the case – as I said, the ending is a real surprise. But I won’t be adding an “Ann Cleeves” tag to the top of the page as, for me, this didn’t have the right sort of mystery for me. Pretty sure that I’ll be coming back to the author though – not being a “classic mystery” didn’t stop it from being a very good book.