Dead Water by Ann Cleeves
Dead Water by Ann Cleeves Ann Cleeves just could not let Jimmy Perez go! She has brought him back in a new series; the first of a planned trilogy is Dead Water. I won’t give away the dramatic and unexpected conclusion to the Shetland Quartet in case you have not yet read it, but it did seem to be the end of her books set in the Shetland Islands and the end of Jimmy’s career. I am very glad that he is back and is just beginning to recover from the shocking events of recent months.
Jimmy is still officially on sick leave but is drawn into an investigation because of his local knowledge. As the case progresses Jimmy finds himself distracted from his own problems and more and more involved in the efforts to find the murderer of two local men. One of these men, Jerry Markham, left Lerwick some years ago and seems to have returned with a plan to make his fortune through some scheme or other. His former girlfriend, left pregnant and unmarried, may or may not be involved in his death. Another woman, the Procurator Fiscal, Rhona Laing, is definitely involved. Perhaps only as the unlucky person to discover the body of Jerry Markham, or perhaps for more reason. Rhona seems far more worried about the whole situation than one would expect in spite of the obvious concerns because of her job. When a second man, a well-liked local, is also found murdered, Jimmy knows there is far more going on here than it seemed at first. It was surreal to be reading this novel while on holiday in Shetland early this summer. At home in far away Canada the names of the villages in the novel don’t mean much, the setting is imagined – but wandering about Shetland while reading Dead Water the towns are very real. I drove into Aith and stood at the water’s edge – the home of the fictional Rhona Laing is right there across the street.
I have had an email correspondence with Ann Cleeves for a couple of years. She read a review of an earlier book I had written for the Parry Sound North Star and wrote to thank me. Since then we have kept in touch and when I planned a trip to Shetland and Orkney I asked for her advice about accommodation and the sights we must see on Shetland. Happily Ann was in Shetland when we arrived, met us at the Ferry terminal in Lerwick, walked us along the waterfront to see the building she pictures as the home of Jimmy Perez, and along the high street and back down to the waterfront for breakfast at the Pierri Café. She is a lovely woman - friendly, natural, and passionate about Shetland. After working hard for many years writing both the Shetland novels and the Vera Stanhope mystery series set in Northumberland where she lives, Ann Cleeves is now enjoying a very well-earned success, making a living from her writing, as both of her mystery series are being made into television programs. Reading Dead Water as we explored Shetland, driving into many of the towns featured in the book, and staying at Ann’s suggestion at Busta House, I felt a bit like I was reading a Scottish Trust Tourist brochure – hitting all the highlights of the island. And, in fact, Shetland and Ann Cleeves are doing a brilliant job at marketing each other! There is a brochure about Ann Cleeves and her novels and their settings that any author would die for. None of this compromises her work and it certainly goes a long way toward spreading the word about her novels.
Life has changed in Shetland since the development of the North Sea oil industry, especially in the area near Sollum Voe. There are a lot of foreign workers both in the oil industry and in the hotels. There are men requiring housing in huge makeshift portable housing units, and filling up hotels and bars at night. There are executive types taking up the hotel rooms in the nicer places. And there is money pouring into Shetland – every town has a new community centre and a swimming pool, the roads are in good nick and there is no unemployment. So, what’s wrong with this picture? Perhaps nothing. Sollum Voe had given this place the financial wherewithal to do a lot for the people. But, the beaches are littered with waste from the sea – plastic bits of everything imaginable – beaches rivaling anything you’d see in the Caribbean, but covered with litter. Nobody has time to chat and most of the staff in our prestigious hotel were Polish - still struggling to understand and be understood when speaking English.
Ann Cleeves may be right that it is part of the life of Shetland and that life is good for the people here – we cannot stay anchored in the past. Certainly the young people do not need to leave for employment and that is a good thing but the rest I’m not so sure about. I am however, very sure that if you read one novel by Ann Cleeves you’ll be back for more!