Village murders unveil lives far from simple in this second installment in a quartette of Shetland thrillers by Cleeves (Raven Black, 2007, etc.).
Summer does not becalm the Shetland island villagers of Lerwick and Biddista. White nights, when darkness at this high northern latitude becomes a brief, passing shadow, roil sleep, leaving folks restless and edgy. Cleeves finds them tossing and turning, contemplating love lost and, perhaps someday, love regained. Tensions rise at an exhibit of local art at the Herring House, a gallery owned by wealthy, flamboyant and intimidating Bella Sinclair. Looking at some of the paintings, a distraught stranger falls to his knees weeping. Speaking to island inspector Jimmy Perez, the man claims not to know his name or his reason for coming to the island. The next morning, a villager finds the visitor in a shed, hanged, a clown mask on his face. Perez suspects, and a doctor confirms, the man did not commit suicide but was murdered. Perez brings onto the case Roy Taylor, a senior investigator from Inverness. But Perez constantly upstages Taylor, tracking apparent leads with his native’s instinct for village life. Did the murder have anything to do with the unsolved disappearance of a man’s brother? Was the motive bitterness over an affair? Or anger over a harsh critique of a painting? Likely as these motives seem, they fail to link the murdered outsider to the tangled histories of four local families. Perez is further confounded when someone discovers at the shoreline the lifeless body of Roddy Sinclair, his head smashed against a boulder. Was Roddy, Bella’s manipulative nephew and a fiddler with a rock star’s fame, part of the imbroglio confronting Perez? The detective’s answer cuts deep.
Cleeves’s keen sense of the seasonal rhythms of Shetland life and her vivid descriptions of its terrain satisfy like a peaty Highland dram, sipped slowly.