Thin Air by Anne Cleeves

The detective in this series is Jimmy Perez, a Shetlander returned to work in the islands of his birth. In this story Perez is called to a remote island where a woman has gone missing and a ghost has appeared on the same day. The plot involves Perez and his superior officer, Willow Reeves, unravelling the increasingly complex skein of relationships and lies that surround this mystery.

In spite of the problems I will discuss, I really enjoyed most of this novel. The mystery is intriguing, the characters varied, and the setting beautifully integrated into the plot and the mood.

However, there are a couple of areas in which this novel falls just short of excellence:

  1. Point of View

Cleeves tends to jump her POV around a great deal. This is a convenient way to drop information, both factual and emotional on the reader, but that’s not good enough. When used to excess, we find most of the writing coming from the author’s point of view, and she only gives us the thoughts and feelings of the specific character when she finds it useful.

  1. Ending

In most Detective Stories, in the second-to-last chapter somebody sits everyone else down and describes what really happened. In the best of stories, this revelation is just a recap of information the reader already knows, an the main reaction is sort of a continuous “Oh, yeah, right.”Unfortunately, the final recap is often the author explaining everything that didn’t come out quite clearly enough in the writing, and the reader’s reaction tends to be, “Huh? Okay, I guess.” In “Thin Air” the final explanation is just that: an explanation. The plotline of the crime is just too complicated, and most of the crucial events happen out of the view of the reader. So the final exposition of the murder plot is full of new information: a definite turnoff for serious mystery fans.

  1. Squeezing the Last Drop of Emotion from the Reader

This comment is aimed at the whole series, not this specific story, because the important event occurred in the preceding book. All murder mysteries nowadays are a combination of a murder mystery and a soap opera. The writer must be careful not to let the lives and emotional upheavals of the main characters overshadow the mystery story.

So here is my last bit of advice to all authors; the technique of bringing in a super-sympathetic person, creating an emotional tie with the hero, and then killing off that person for the purpose of creating sympathy and depth in the hero’s character? Let’s be polite and say it’s a technique to be used sparingly. Let’s be frank and say it’s a cheap and easy trick, and should be avoided unless you want your work to be classified with the soap operas instead of the detective mysteries.

Recommended, with reservations. 4 stars.

About the Author: Gordon Long

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