Written by Ann Cleeves — Some books wouldn’t be the same if they were set somewhere else. Imagine, for example, Sherlock Holmes looking for clues in Bradford, or Morse meandering around Manchester. The same applies to Dead Water, which really wouldn’t work outside of the Shetland Isles.
Ann Cleeves has already staked her place in this rugged landscape, with four of her previous novels being set in the archipelago. Dead Water is the first in a new quartet, and it features characters from the previous books such as Jimmy Perez and Sandy Wilson. Plus, she introductes an outsider, Detective Inspector Willow Reeves, who is drafted in from the Hebrides, just to add a little spice to the mix.
Inspector Perez has been out of the loop since the death of his fiancée, but his interest is piqued when the body of Shetland-born journalist Jerry Markham is found in a traditional Shetland boat, a short distance from the home of the Fiscal, Rhona Laing, who discovers the body. Markham had come home in pursuit of a big story, and his murder stirs up all kinds of emotions among the locals. His parents are naturally devastated, but some people have little good to say about the former local hack, and the girl he left pregnant when he ran away to London in search of fame and fortune seems strangely subdued. Evie is about to marry a local man, which makes her reaction all the more unusual.
Reeves takes the lead in the investigation, with Sandy on hand to impart local knowledge. Meanwhile, Perez appears reluctant to get involved, but once he climbs back in the saddle he is soon riding off alone in search of the truth – much to the annoyance of his new boss.
Cleeves is a skilled writer, and there’s a wonderful ebb and flow to the narrative, which seemed to take its cue from the character central to each scene. There’s the nervous energy of Willow Reeves, stuttering ineptitude of Sandy Wilson and brooding, considered approach of Jimmy Perez. Each is used to great effect, adding light and shade to the story progressed.
Early on, I struggled with some of the local words and phrases which pepper the pages. I’m all for authenticity but it was a tad annoying that I had to leave the book and do some research. However, thanks to Wikipedia I was soon up to speed. I also had to look up the role of the Procurator Fiscal, and what I learned, I’ll pass on here: “Sometimes called PF or fiscal, is a public prosecutor in Scotland. They investigate all sudden and suspicious deaths in Scotland, conduct Fatal Accident Inquiries and handle criminal complaints against the police.” Isn’t the internet wonderful?
Dead Water is engrossing, and despite struggling with some of the colloquial phrases, I enjoyed becoming absorbed into the local ways and customs. She may write about gruesome murder, but Ann Cleeves is doing sterling work in promoting Shetland tourism. Notwithstanding the well-executed plot and canny characters, the setting is the star turn here and I felt as if I’d actually visited the place without even leaving my comfy armchair. It’s released 31 January.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars