Archive for June 8th, 2010

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves. MacMillan, 2010.

Summer, more than any other time of year, seems to lend itself to light reading. Too hot to face generally depressing non-fiction (at least if you read pretty much anything having to do with the state of the natural world or the environment). Anyway, I’ve been lazing through some fun books lately. After a hard day of gardening, they’re just the ticket.

Blue Lightning is the fourth in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland Quartet featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. The books are colour coded: Raven Black, White Nights, Red Bones and now Blue Lightning. I was drawn to the series by the unusual location, the remote Shetland islands to the north of Scotland. In this last book, Perez returns to Fair Isle, where he grew up, to introduce his fiance Fran to his parents. While they are visiting, a murder occurs. A body has been found at the island’s bird observatory and as bad weather has shut down all travel, Perez is called upon to investigate. The stage is set for an Agatha Christie-style mystery, where all the suspects are cloistered together in a cut-off location.

Of the four mysteries, I found Blue Lightning the least satisfactory. It moves along rather slowly, and then, just as things are wrapping up, the plot takes a jarring, unexpected turn. According to the author’s website, no further installments in the series are intended, and it seems like a harsh conclusion to leave with Jimmy’s followers. Still, it is an interesting foursome, and I recommend giving Raven Black a try. If you enjoy it, you can carry on right through to the final installment and see if you agree.

The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith. Knopf, 2010.

This latest entry in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series is book number eleven. The books bring to mind adjectives such as charming, heart-warming, delightful and endearing, but for all that, Smith somehow is able to avoid sticky sweetness. Instead, Smith offers up a sympathetic look at the foibles of human nature as Mma Ramotswe brings her gentle wisdom and wit to bear on the problems her customers bring to the Agency. In this outing, Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi travel to the north of Botswana, to a safari camp on the Okavango Delta, to deliver an inheritance.

I enjoyed the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series from the very first book, but Smith really hit his stride after a few outings, and now each book is like returning to spend an afternoon sitting in the shade with old friends on a hot afternoon, sipping bush tea and hearing the latest news. Start at the beginning, and enjoy a summerful of satisfying reading.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. Random House 2010.

I had to put my name on a waiting list at the library to secure a copy of Major Pettigrew. Having finished the novel, I’m a bit puzzled as to why the book is enjoying such success. It’s a nice little story, and I enjoyed it. It was a pleasant read, nicely paced, with a gentle love story at its heart, and Simonson is a capable writer. Still. It took me till halfway through the book to warm up to Major Pettigrew, who struck me as a rather wooden caricature of the old “British grin and bear, jolly good, old man, that’s Major Pettigrew” stereotype. Do such men still exist? Then there is the spoiled son, who is apparently making his way in the business world, yet acts like a five-year-old. The local titled lord with no money, the scheming American, the overbearing Pakistani family, they’re all here. It is really just Simonson’s writing that holds it all together. That, and a happy ending. Happy endings are good for summer reading.

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