‘Blue Lightning’ is one of Ann Cleeves’ well-known Shetland series, set on the Scottish islands and featuring the detective Jimmy Perez. Interestingly I watched the most recent TV series whilst reading this earlier book and it was good to find out more of Perez’s backstory, and see where and how things have changed.
I’d seen the TV adaptation of ‘Blue Lightning’ as well, but not for several years so I couldn’t remember enough about the details to spoil the read. And I really enjoyed the book. Yes, the storyline is incredibly sad in places and yes, it could have done with an extra edit here and there, but overall it’s taut, dramatic and clever, and kept me gripped right to the last page.
Unlike most of the series, this one is actually set on Perez’s home island of Fair Isle, some distance from the rest of the Shetlands and even more remote. I loved the descriptions of the island, which reminded me of a recent-ish trip to Hoy in Orkney, and I also loved the background theme of birdwatching. The part where a fat, slightly hopeless twitcher called Dougie found a rare swan was both hilarious and heart-warming, and I rather liked Dougie, who felt flawed but very real.
I also like Perez, of course, and not just because he’s played by Douglas Henshall in the TV series. My only slight criticism, and I found this with other Shetland books I read, is that the narrative isn’t always from his point of view, so I don’t feel as connected to him as I might. However, finding out more about his home life, his family and the tragedy that comes to affect him personally helped me understand him better as a character, both in this book and in the overall Shetland universe.
The ending packed a real punch and tied up all the loose ends (or feathers!) perfectly. Of all the Ann Cleeves books I’ve read so far, I think this counts as one of my favourites.