Monday, September 16, 2013

White Nights by Ann Cleeves (Shetland Islands Quartet)

One thing new contemporary authors offer is the chance to witness their evolution as a writer in real time. There's something thrilling about watching a writer feel their way as they find their literary voice.

The Shetland Islands
That evolution is exactly what Ann Cleeves offers in White Nights, her second installment in the Shetland Island Quartet.

In White Nights, Cleeves has streamlined her narrative style, smoothing out the jagged transitions between character points of view that were such a startling, but refreshing, feature of Raven Black, the first book in the series. Truthfully, I can't quite decide how I feel about that.

The kaleidoscopic way Cleeves has of telling a story through many different lenses (which I wrote extensively about in my first blog about Cleeves' series) is still present, but to a far lesser degree. Less about the islands' inhabitants is revealed through snippets of conversation, for example, and more time is spent on developing characters through introspection.

This does slightly diminish the feeling, so prevalent in Raven Black, of seeing a story unfold through a many-colored stained glass window made up of unique panes of glass.

Which isn't to say the book isn't a solid entry into to the series.

The Shetland Islands thrillers take place on the namesake islands, located northeast of Great Britain, about halfway to the Arctic Circle. The islands themselves, as well as the weather and lifestyle they breed, are justifiably as much a character in the series as the people who inhabit them.

This time, the murder takes place during the islands' summer, a season just as ambivalent as the winters, with nights that are never darker than dusk.

Cleeves still illustrates a talent for offering readers a surprising and refreshing entry into a mystery. In this case, the dead body found hanging in a community boat shed (strangled, however) is preceded by the victim being an amnesiac and having a psychological break during the middle of an art gallery opening.

The isolation of the islands and the impact that has on the residents is shown with Cleeves' deft hand for subtly. This successfully results in the reader getting that wonderful murder-mansion feel as the plot unfolds, especially since each character is unique and well-sketched.

The plot meanders through surprising twists and turns, never letting the reader get settled, much like the weather on the islands robs many residents of deep sleep. There is one major surprise that I won't spoil and certainly added a jolt the layered story, if not to the entire series.

A few well-placed and artful red herrings keep the armchair sleuth invested and  a delightful undercurrent of sinister intentions is conveyed in superficially everyday scenes. Should Cleeves ever turn her hand to straight horror, she will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with.

And yet, I couldn't help but feel as though something had been lost in this installment. I rather missed the clipped, short, abrupt style that I feel helped the first book clack along in such a page-turning, compelling way.

On the other hand, I did enjoy spending more time getting to know the islands' inhabitants, particularly the deeply sensitive, introspective Inspector Jimmy Perez.

So, while not as good as the first entry, White Nights is also by no means a disappointment, either. It certainly gives one reason to read the third entry.

No comments:

Post a Comment