This is book #6 of the Shetland series featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. He's back on the job, still mourning the death of his girlfriend while caring for her daughter Cassie. After a young British woman goes missing following a wedding on Unst, he & colleague Sandy travel to the island. DI Willow Reeves soon joins them & they set up shop at Springfield House, a B&B converted from a manor with a haunting past.
The missing woman was part of 2 couples who travelled from London to see one of their friends marry an island man. The women have known each other since uni so you'd think they had no secrets between them. You'd be wrong.
Running parallel to the murder mystery is a subplot involving the ghost of Peerie Lizzie, a young girl who died in 1930. Her family lived in Springfield House & according to local folklore, she can still be seen dancing on the beach nearby. As the book progresses, both story lines are developed until it becomes clear there are ties between the present & the past.
I loved the previous books. Jimmy is a compelling character who is just starting to emerge from a dark depression following the death of his beloved Fran. He's a smart, intuitive cop, the guy his colleagues depend on & they're relieved to see signs of the old Jimmy returning. The author continues to use the customs, people & geography of the Shetlands as a backdrop to great effect. Descriptions of the fog, desolate landscapes & island croft houses lend the story a feeling of claustrophobic isolation, perfect for a mystery.
Characters are divided into locals & those from away and I appreciated the clash of cultures & dialogue. The only character I didn't enjoy was Willow. She's Jimmy's boss, a DI in charge of Serious Crimes but comes across as a lovesick, petulant child instead of a mature professional. The author repeatedly refers to her unkempt appearance, complete with a wardrobe of hand-me-downs from charity shops. I'm thinking someone in her position could afford basic clothing & a comb.
This is not about car chases & shootouts. It's a quiet, thinking person's mystery, more about the characters than acts of violence. The communities are close knit & memories are long among the multi-generational families. There are occasional disputes but they band together to keep secrets from strangers. As some of these are gradually uncovered, the murder investigation changes direction several times & I enjoyed trying to figure out whodunit....right up 'til the end. This is where the story fell apart with an ending that seemed rushed & unbelievable. After being engrossed by the story, it felt like being jerked awake. When the killer was revealed in previous books, you could look back & see where you missed the dropped clues, admiring how the author cleverly concealed them. Here, I was left thinking "Huh...?", a bit disappointed that I never had a chance. Instead of being rooted in any of the story lines being followed, the killer's identity (& especially their motive) came out of the blue & I just couldn't buy it. It was like staring at a beautifully wrapped gift for days before Xmas & finally opening it to discover socks.
So...how to rate this. If I disregard Willow (irritating to me but that's not the author's fault), 90% of the book is a 4 star read. I'd give the last couple of chapters a 2.5. It was a case of a great book deserving a smarter end. Having said that I will read #7, hoping this is a blip in the series. The setting & main character are compelling enough that I want to see where his life goes next in this beautiful part of the world.