Title: White Nights [Unabridged Audiobook]
Author: Ann Cleeves
Narrator: Gordon Griffin
Publisher: ISIS Audio Books 
ISBN: N/A [downloaded from audible.com]
Length: 11hrs 35mins
Setting: Shetland Islands, Scotland, Present day
Genre: Police Procedural
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating: 3.5/5
One-liner: A story where setting takes center stage, ably supported by compelling characters.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
It’s summer in Shetland and well-known artist Bella Sinclair is hosting an exhibition of her work alongside that of new artist Fran Hunter. Although there are not as many guests at the opening as Bella expected, one unknown Englishman does make an impression when he breaks down in tears at the sight of one of the paintings. Local Detective Jimmy Perez, attending the exhibition on a date with Fran Hunter, takes the man aside and discovers he has amnesia. When the man disappears from the gallery Jimmy doesn’t make much effort to find him but wishes he had done when the man is discovered dead the next morning. This presumed suicide and subsequent events all seem to be affected by the endless daylight of the far northern summer and the isolation of the islands.
I’m a sucker for books set in remote locations. They are as different from my inner-city life as it gets (and not somewhere I’d willingly spend more than about 5 days) but I love reading about them. Cleeves does a superb job of immersing readers in the isolated world populated by familiar faces who, although they share much, all seem to work incredibly hard at keeping a little piece of themselves private. I quickly developed an image of Biddista, the village of half a dozen houses where most of the action takes place, and its inhabitants thanks to Cleeves’ imagery and her depictions of how the locals interact with the various ‘incomers’ in the story.
Cleeves takes time too to develop a range of characters. Jimmy Perez is engaging as he pursues both personal and professional interests despite the fact he is unsure of himself in both spheres. I thought his mixture of introspection and decisiveness quite realistic although I was a bit bored by his somewhat laboured relationship with Fran. Several of the island ‘old-timers’ were utterly absorbing including Kenny who has the misfortune to discover more than one body and who seemed to represent the Islands’ struggle to have its traditions coexist with modern ways. The Inverness Inspector in charge of the case, Roy Taylor, was a different type of character all together but equally well depicted and a good source of conflict for the novel.
For me the book fell down a bit in its story. The establishment portion was quite good but after that I found the plot fairly predictable and I actually thought the ending a bit too melodramatic (and not terribly credible) which was out of keeping with the earlier events. As all the suspects were highlighted then rejected during the final scenes I got the sense that the culprit had been chosen for shock value more than continuity.
I haven’t read the first book in this quartet but I didn’t feel that I was at any disadvantage. There were mentions of earlier events but I wasn’t troubled by not knowing the details which scores bonus points from me as books which can be read independently seem to be a rare commodity in crime fiction these days. Although the story wasn’t the most gripping I’ve read there is much else to recommend this book, especially when narrated by the delightful Gordon Griffin who managed to portray an entire range of people without really changing his voice at all.
I reviewed another book set in Shetland last year, SJ Bolton’s Sacrifice, and this is the second book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland Quartet: for islands with a population of around 23,000 people they seem to be inspiring a disproportionate number of murders!