Thin Air by Ann Cleeves
It is simmer dim in June in Unst – the endless days in mid to late June when it is never truly dark – sunset and dawn are both about 3 am.
A new mystery novel from Ann Cleeves is always reason for celebration. As much as I like her series featuring Vera Stanhope it is the Shetland series that I most enjoy reading. The most recent, Thin Air, is set on the Shetland island of Unst and finds Jimmy Perez back at work after a long leave. Jimmy began his career as the detective in The Shetland Quartet – Raven Black, White Nights, Red Bones and Blue Lightning. These books were such a success that although it appeared Jimmy’s career was over at the end of the quartet, in 2013 Ann decided to bring him back in the novel Dead Water, now followed by Thin Air – and I am sure many more to come.
Jimmy suffered a personal tragedy at the end of Blue Lightning from which he is still recovering. The horror of his loss will never leave him but he will find a way to accommodate his grief and move on into a life that has joy. Thin Air places Jimmy Perez and his superior officer, Chief Inspector Willow Reeves, on the island of Unst, the most northeast island of the Shetland islands. Many tourists travel to Unst by a very short plane trip from Mainland – the largest of the Shetland Islands. For those on a driving tour of the Highlands and Islands it is an easy day trip to drive to Unst from Mainland, via a ferry to Yell, a drive across Yell and a ferry to Unst – booking your return on the last ferry out later in the day. Unst is known for an amazing amount of bird life – very up close and personal as you learn over the cliffs to watch the nesting gannets, Fullmars and Puffins. Unst is also the home of the Muckle Flugga Lighthouse built in 1858 by the famous Stevenson family, ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson who used the island of Unst as the model for his map of Treasure Island. The Muckle Flugga lighthouse is a spectacular sight perched alone on a rock in the ocean. Unst, with a human population of only 700, an island only 12 miles by 5 miles, is truly remote. The perfect place to set a murder mystery!
The story centres on a trio of couples who have come to Unst to celebrate the marriage of Lowrie and Caroline. Lowrie grew up on Unst and is planning to make his life there with his English bride. Their friends, Polly and Marcus, and Eleanor and Ian are happy to spend a week’s holiday on the island to share in their friend’s traditional wedding celebrations. Very shortly after arriving on Unst Eleanor and Polly both – separately – see a young girl, dressed in white, dancing with abandon. Is she a vision of Peerie Lizzie – or is she a real child? Of course if you do not believe in ghosts you know there must be another explanation. In Shetland or Orkney however, there is such a sense of the past and the supernatural you just might find yourself believing in the fairies.
We witness the attraction between Jimmy and Willow and wonder how that will develop– or not – in future novels. The secondary characters, the owners of a local bed and breakfast, and Lowrie's parents provide us with enough red herrings to make figuring out the culprit near impossible – and hardly worth the effort.
This is a mystery novel so I am not about to give away anything to spoil the suspense in this review – except to say Thin Air will not disappoint. Like any good mystery Thin Air is a pleasurable escape on any snowy day.