Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves: A review


Continuing with my reading of Ann Cleeves' Shetland series, this is number four in that series. We get to know Jimmy Perez a lot better in this one. Mainly, we get to see where he came from and what his parents are like.

Jimmy grew up on Fair Isle and it is where his parents still live. It is to Fair Isle that he goes with Fran, his newly acquired fiancée, the former wife of Duncan Hunter and mother of young Cassie. He wants Fran to meet his parents, Big James and Mary. This book provides quite a bit of backstory for Jimmy and his parents.

Fair Isle is famous as a birders' paradise. It features a birding reserve and research center that is run by Maurice and Angela. They have managed to attract a marvelous chef named Jane who was eager to escape the hectic pace of London. She has been happy on Fair Isle.

Big James and Mary host an engagement party at North Light, the headquarters of the birding center, in order for their and Jimmy's friends to meet Fran. Jane prepares a sumptuous feast for them. It's a successful party and a good time is had by all. Then the murders start.

To make matters even worse, a storm cuts the island off and the islanders are trapped there with Jimmy Perez the only investigator to find the murderer. (Shades of Agatha Christie!) If Jimmy's trapped there then the murderer must be trapped there also, not a comfortable position for the islanders to be in.

It turns out that the first victim, discovered at the bird observatory, was not well-liked. In fact, she was pretty obnoxious and any number of people are probably perfectly happy to see her out of the way. A plethora of suspects does not make Perez's job any easier. Moreover, he only has the limited technology and communications of the island available to him while the storm rages. By the time things begin to calm down and he's able to get some of his team out to Fair Isle, another murder has occurred.

Cleeves, as always, is very cagy about developing her plot and revealing clues along the way and I confess I really did not figure this one out. The big reveal came as a bit of a surprise for me. But then, of course, it all made perfect sense.

In the last few chapters of the book, though, Cleeves delivers an absolute gut punch when she kills off one of the characters whom I had liked and sort of identified with. It's a gut punch for Jimmy Perez as well and further complicates the investigation.  

It seems that Ann Cleeves knows her birds well. She is a birder herself, I've read. Some of the best parts of the book for me were her passages about the birds of the island and about the birders who pursue them. All in all, this was a very satisfying read, even with the unexpected tragedy near the end. I look forward to reading the next entry in the series to see how this event plays out in Perez's life.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars 


  1. Anne Cleeves has had me hooked since the first book I read and all three of her series keep me engaged throughout. I hated for the Shetland series to end, but I'm liking her newest series better with each book. Favorite? Still the curmudgeonly Vera. :)

  2. I adore Vera, love Jimmy, and am warming up to Matthew. When she did an author event at The Poisoned Pen, she talked about this being her first event here but that she'd been a customer on several occasions when she'd come to Arizona as a birder. I discovered that she and I had walked some of the same paths in Cochise County to watch the sandhill cranes and so many other birds that winter there.

    1. I think her love of and interest in birds is evident in her writing, especially in the Shetland series.

  3. Not only do I want to read this book, but I really want to visit Fair Isle and its bird observatory! :D

    1. It does sound like a place that a birder would enjoy visiting.


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