Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways's Reviews > White Nights

White Nights by Ann Cleeves
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Nov 16, 11

Read in September, 2009

Rating: 3.75* of five

This is the second Shetland Islands Quartet thriller, which marketing decision was a good one...calling these thrillers instead of mysteries sets up the expectation of a whacking good read though not necessarily the play-fair-with-the-reader puzzle-solver that modern mysteries are.

Cleeves writes wonderfully clearly and carefully about flawed, real, lovable characters in bad emotional states because of violent, evil acts disrupting their very ordinary lives.

The stories she tells in this series, to date, are proof to me that she's looked deeply into human nature and seen what its outlines show to the astute...there but for the grace of God go I. Everyone in this book flees from their hurts. Their flight is, inevitably, unsuccessful. Jimmy Perez can't run from his flaming co-dependence. Fran Hunter can't run from her seething ambition. Bella Sinclair can't run from her self-created persona, an Iron Maiden as effective as any Inquistor's torture device. Inspector Taylor, back up from Inverness, can't escape his fear-driven energy. No one, not any one, escapes.

The white nights of the title are a phenomenon of the far north. The sun never *quite* sets enough for true, dark night to fall. It's unsettling to some, it's a biorhythm disturber of tremendous power to have the body's million-year-old clock disrupted by absence of night. It's used by vile people the world over as a form of torture to deprive a human of good rest. And yet, there are thousands whose entire lives are lived with this condition as backdrop, and they seem not to feel its downside too strongly.

But let's face it...this fact of nature is a thriller-writer's best birthday present. What better metaphor, and even a pretty subtle one, for bringing to light old wrongs, shining the pitiless lamp of the torturer on the consciences of those guilty of undiscovered crimes, than a sun that won't go down?

That's a very nice backdrop you've chosen, Mme Cleeves, and it works very, very well for your chosen story, right up to and including the resolution of the multiple crimes. It does not make up for the sense I got, throughout the book, that your focus wasn't on me, your reader.

I recommend the book, yes. I even think there are some things about it that are outstanding, including the character developments of Perez and Taylor. But as I careened from incident to incident, I didn't sense that you were laying out this tale for my delectation, but rather leading me like a museum docent from exhibit to exhibit, trying in a haphazard way to lead my somewhat dim brain to a conclusion you'd already reached and were now impatiently awaiting my "aha!" moment. I am already in possession of "Red Bones", and I am very much looking forward to seeing what you have planned for me next, but I am a little bit put out by this sense of magisterial disdain that I got from the resolution to "White Nights." I wish you'd let me get there with you, instead of running ahead and pointing and waving your arms.
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