Dead Water is Ann Cleeves' fifth Shetland novel. Originally, the series was expected to be a quartet, but the great success it has enjoyed, starting with a CWA Gold Dagger and now culminating in a very high profile upcoming TV series starring Douglas Henshall, has prompted a rethink. And, like Ann's other fans, I'm very glad about that.
Here we have a story about a journalist returning to Shetland after a period of absence. His body is discovered by the Procurator Fiscal, a woman who seems to have something to hide. The deceased, Jerry Markham, was planning an important story -what was it to be, and does it explain his death? The inquiry is headed by DI Willow Reeve, but Jimmy Perez is also involved. The build-up is steady rather than fast-paced, but that is part of the style of this series, a way of making the reader interested in the people. It's a method that suits a rural-based series, in my opinion (which is one of the reasons why my Lake District books also develop at a less rapid pace compared to,say, those set n Liverpool.)
The end of the quartet brought tragedy to Shetland. A key character died, and one challenge for the writer is how to deal with this sort of major issue in the next book in the series. You can simply ignore it - but that seems unrealistic. Ann Cleeves has opted to tackle the issue head on. The practical implication of this is that it's desirable to read the quartet before coming on to this book. But I don't think it's absolutely essential. Whether or not to read a series in order is a topic I've covered before in this blog, but although as it happens I have read this series in order, Ann has done her utmost to ensure that the novel stands alone, and the solution to the previous novel is not given away.
I read - and reviewed - Ann Cleeves' early books before I ever met her. For many years I think it's fair to say that she was pigeon-holed as a mid-list writer, and at one time,even, her books didn't always get into paperback editions. Now she is an international best-seller, with not one major TV series adapted from her books, but two. It's a dramatic transformation, but it's been hard earned and is well deserved. It just shows what can happen if you don't give up as a writer, and I'd suggest that her career, like, for instance, those of Peter Robinson and Andrew Taylor, is an excellent example to all other authors who feel frustrated that, although they write books of quality, fame and fortune proves elusive. You just never know what is around the corner.