Review: Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves

Cold Earth is the 7th book in the Shetland Island Mystery series.

Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez is attending the funeral of friend Magnus Tait, body just laid to rest in the ground, when a landslide occurs and wreaks havoc in Ravenswick, Shetland. The natural destruction cuts off the main drag to the airport, shuts schools, and causes general disorder to the small, tight-knit community. At a house close to the cemetery, pretty much engulfed in mud, Perez looks upon a startling find. A death that may have happened before the natural catastrophe.

And something else, bright against the grey wall and the black soil. A splash of red. Brighter than blood.

He scrambled down the bank towards it. A woman’s body had been left behind by the ebbing tide of earth. She wore a red silk dress, exotic, glamorous. Not the thing for a February day in Shetland, even if she’d been indoors when the landslide swept her away. Her hair and her eyes were black and Perez felt a strange atavistic connection. She could be Spanish, like his ancestors of centuries ago.

A detective obsessed with a beautiful dead woman is nothing new (“Hello, Laura,”), but Ann Cleeves takes it in a different direction as Perez and his team work to peel back the layers exposing the unknown. At first at a loss as to the woman’s identity, preliminary inquiries reveal the house was inherited years earlier by a woman from America, and undoubtedly, she rented it out on an ad hoc basis.

Once the mud is cleared from the premises, Perez’s subordinate Sandy uncovers some clues that the woman could have the name, or nickname, of Alis. In addition, Wilson finds two photographs: one of an old couple and another of two young kids. And then, there’s a mysterious love letter.

My dearest Alis

What a joy to know that you’ll be back in the islands again, after so many years! I’ve so enjoyed our rare encounters on my visits south and I know you’re the same beautiful woman who first attracted me when we first met. I’m sure we can make a go of things and that we’ll have a wonderful future together.

There was no signature at the bottom, just a row of kisses, and Perez wondered what that suggested. Perhaps this was a married man who didn’t want to leave any evidence of his adultery.

There are dead ends in Perez’s future thanks to Ms. Cleeves’s strategic placement of red herrings, but the real joy for this reader was the ambience of the setting: Shetland, a group of islands off the northeast coast of the United Kingdom as a part of Scotland. Such a fresh, inviting backdrop for a mystery series. According to Wikipedia, inhabitants have populated the area since the Mesolithic period, with earliest written reference dating back to the Romans.

My abysmal lack of familiarity with the region, beyond the ponies, might just be adding a tad bit to my enthusiasm of Ms. Cleeves’s work, but her rich, textured portrayal of the area made me want to book the next flight out of the states. Alas, too poor to actually make the trip, I did the next best thing and began watching the TV series starring Douglas Henshall as Perez.

Shetland Now Available on Netflix!

The quiet setting with the thoughtful lead detective reminded me of a similar favorite of mine … Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone. Both have that morally strong main character who awkwardly balances complicated relationships with past losses that affect his current contacts.

Regardless of your entry point to this series, I’m betting you will appreciate the Perez mysteries like I do. Well worth your time.

Read an excerpt from Cold Earth while sipping the “Earth Day Cooler” cocktail inspired by the book!


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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.


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    “Why am I talking in public? Because I don’t want other LGBT friends to go through what I went through. I don’t want other women like me to go through forced marriage,” she told the BBC.

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