Review by C.J. Bunce
Anglophiles will be hard-pressed to find a more intriguing murder-mystery police procedure television series than with the five seasons (and soon to be seven seasons) of the BBC’s Shetland. Douglas Henshall (who won a BAFTA for the role) plays detective inspector Jimmy Perez, a one-of-a-kind, conscientious and thorough cop who manages a small police department on the Scotland archipeligo. The television series is based on a series of novels by British author Ann Cleeves, who chose to set her police story in the sparse, cold, austere setting in the far northern latitudes. Altogether Cleeves explored the exploits of Perez in nine novels, the final of which, Wild Fire, has just arrived in its first paperback edition.
Wild Fire finds DI Perez on the case of a murder of a young woman named Emma, who is found strangled and hanged in the barn of a local family. Among many quirks is the fact that this isn’t the first time someone was found hanged in their barn. Cleeves’ last case for Perez finds him chasing leads across the country, piecing together the background of the victim, which is unveiled something like Jon Krakauer’s story of Christopher McCandless in his novel Into the Wild. Emma is not so interesting as McCandless, but by the time the reader catches up to the murderer, you’ll feel like you’ve interviewed plenty of witnesses, including a young autistic boy in the home she worked in, and more than a few self-absorbed quirky couples, most futile diversions from the key story.
For fans of the television series exploring the novels for the first time, expect many surprises. Perez of the novels is not quite so engaging, instead a man of few words and emotions that keeps his thoughts close to his vest. The only other main character common to the TV show is Perez’s reliable detective constable Sandy Wilson, who is completely the same put-upon, over-achieving character that he is on the small screen. Perez’s daughter Cassie is only a child here at the end of Cleeves’ novels, who spends most of the novel being watched off-book by biological father Duncan, yet fans of the show know her and Duncan as key to the appeal of the TV series.
As with most of the stories in the TV series, Perez is preoccupied with his own life issues, although he is always able to push them aside to follow leads. The preoccupation in this story is with a certain detective chief inspector, named Willow Reeves, a former boss and lover of Perez, who is under the weather and returns to Shetland to work with Perez on this case. The news will change Perez’s family forever. Notable for fans of the series is that Reeves appeared in two episodes of the 2014 season of the show (played by Nina Sosanya). Will DCI Reeves return in the series final two seasons in a similar role?
Cleeves third novel in her Shetland Mysteries series, titled Red Bones, was adapted as the first episode of Shetland. Her first novel, Raven Black, and her fourth and fifth novels, Blue Lightning and Dead Water, were adapted into the 2014 season of the show. The shows producers, thanks to characters introduced outside of the novels like DS Alison “Tosh” McIntosh, went with other mystery stories and characters for the remaining episodes to date. Other books in the series include White Nights, Thin Air, Too Good to be True, Cold Earth, and this final novel Wild Fire.
This is a novel to read on a dreary, overcast day, and it’s the kind of book to get you into the mood of the scenic countrysides found in the Shetland television series. Cleeves, who is not Scottish, presumably captured the visual accounts of the country in prior novels, because in Wild Fire the story could just have easily have taken place in small-town America as in Scotland. But it’s an interesting enough entry point for the series that might prompt readers to go back to the beginning and investigate the other novels.