Dead Water
Ann Cleeves
Two-and-a-half murders in almost four hundred pages.

That's the count here.

The detectives:

  • Willow Reeves --- tall; her parents were hippies; unruly hair; does Yoga; takes charge.
  • Sandy Wilson --- young; a bumbler; does what he's told; bored easily.
  • Jimmy Perez --- could be Latino; broody; beloved wife Fran just died; has the detective instinct (he pulls everything together at the end with the murder mystery's obligatory final soliloquy).

The killer? Know what? When the author decides at last, languidly, to wrap it all up at the end, the assassin turns out to be someone so bland and colorless that I had completely misplaced him, forgotten which character he was. Or maybe I was asleep when he appeared somewhere around page 125. Who IS this guy?

Midway through Dead Water, the detectives, the suspects --- everyone (including me) start into bitching that Willow and Perez should hurry up and solve this stinker so we could get on with our lives. I half expected that Rhona Laing, the public attorney, known locally as the Iron Maiden, not given to putting up with fools lightly, would pull a Will Cuppy: step right out of her character for a moment, address the author directly, say, "Ann, for chrissakes, if you don't mind, could you hurry this boodle along? I have ten cases to resolve before nightfall."

Detective Willow is brought in from elsewhere to solve the murder. She meets the local, Detective Perez, and she wonders, "Had guilt and self-pity chilled him and made him sluggish? Was it a weird form of hibernation?" Relax, Ms. Reeves: the whole of the island is, apparently, knee-deep in hibernation.

§   §   §

All this takes place in the Shetland Islands. Don't worry: I just looked them up. A hundred miles or so north-east of mainland Scotland. Pop: 23,000. Rain and fog are predominant (as we are reminded, endlessly, by Cleeves).

When not strangling people and getting lost in the fog, the local entertainment of choice is giving rib-tickling monikers to the hundred or so islands of Shetland --- Fair. Yell. Unst. Walls. Muckle Roe. Papa Stour. Out Stacks. "Where are you from?" "Yell." "I say, where are you from?" "YELL!" "WELL YOU DON'T HAVE TO SCREAM!."

Because of the Shetland's location (near the 60th Latitude), the summer days go on forever. These days are referred to as "the simmer dim." "Bright, no?" "No, it's dim."

The chief entertainment and the main fare seems to be downing whisky (note the Approved Local spelling). A favored dessert is clootie dumpling with whisky. Atholl Brose, which sounds like a local shooting club, is, rather, another dessert, said to be especially tasty with whisky. A main course can be haggis, which tastes and looks just like where it came from offal: that's sheep, pig or cow gut mixed with suet, along with neeps, tatties, whatever those may be. And whisky. Also there's black pudding which tastes like it looks, made with pig blood. Gack.

One of the most notable characters here on the islands and in the novel is the red-necked Phalarope, a flighty little bird. It may have had more influence than one can imagine on the characters here. "The females are larger, more colorful," we are informed by Wikipedia. They pursue and fight over males, "then defend them from other females and force him to set on the eggs." In Dead Water, all the males are passive, colorless, mostly good for settling in on clutches of egg. The females tend to be noisy, gossipy, well feathered, and good at ordering the men around, especially at egg time.

Alan Paton's novel, Too Late the Phalarope, starts out, "Perhaps I could have saved him, with only a word, two words out of my mouth. Perhaps I could have saved us all. But I never spoke them."

This must have something to do with this whisky and fog-filled potboiler.

--- Lolita Lark
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