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Monday, July 3, 2017

Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves

Minotaur Books, 400 pages, $25.99

Poor Jimmy Perez. His fiancée died. He is raising her young daughter. He is a police detective. And he lives in the bleak (but beautiful), windswept Shetland Islands, just north of the Orkney Islands and mainland Scotland. “Cold Earth” is the seventh in the series.

If you are an avid fan of the BBC Scotland television series “Shetland,” based on Ann Cleeves’ books, the books carry a different storyline for the main characters. Should you be coming backwards to the written series, I think you will be surprised how well the books capture the evocative Shetland isolation and how well the TV series captures the general nature of Cleeves’ characters. The main differences? Book Jimmy Perez is more angst-ridden than TV Jimmy Perez. Cleeves develops her book characters — both the permanent staff and the murder victims/suspects — way more. Now on to the book.

It is the hallmark of Ann Cleeves’ later books — she’s written quite a few of them — to tell her tale from many different angles. In at least one of her books, the protagonist doesn’t show up for almost half the book. She shadows characters through their days and in their thoughts, without giving away whether they are future victims or killers. Woe to you if you become attached to someone who later bites the Shetland dust.

The first victim* is found in the aftermath of a landslide during a particularly miserable spate of bad weather. At the time, Jimmy was graveside mourning the passing of a neighbor and friend, Magnus Tait**, when the hillside gave way, crashing down over a major road and upon an abandoned croft below. It turns out the croft was not quite abandoned. The body of a beautiful, well-dressed middle-aged woman was flushed out of the croft by the mud. She would have been killed by the slide had she been alive in the croft at the time, but she was already dead from strangulation.

Jimmy finds himself in an awkward position of having to professionally interview neighbors and friends. This situation cannot be avoided in the small community of the Shetlands, but some of these people are actually his nearby neighbors. The murder has occurred over the hill from his home.

The first problem is to identify the woman. It proves surprisingly difficult. Jimmy, his assistant DC Sandy Wilson, and their boss, flown over from the mainland, Chief Inspector Willow Reeves, follow all the traditional trails. The difference, as stated above, is that we are already following several of the characters and their reactions to what is happening. Cleeves sets a complicated task for herself.

As usual, I enjoyed the latest episode in the Shetland series. As usual, I enjoyed Cleeves’ complex characters and the setting.

* I can’t remember the last story I read in which there was only one victim.

** Magnus, some of you may recall, was a character prominently featured in the first Perez book, “Raven Black.”

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