Cleeves’s Cold Earth follows two murder
cases that grow more complicated despite the best efforts of DI Jimmy Perez, DC Sandy Wilson, and Chief Inspector Willow Reeves, who comes to Shetland to assist in the investigation. The discovery of woman’s body, left behind by the ebbing tide of a terrible landslide suddenly carry Jimmy, Sandy and Willow into a complex murder investigation. There’s also an attack on Lerwick’s Mayor and on a popular local family. In Cleeves's latest outing, Jimmy is back in fine form, still mourning the loss of his wife, Fran,
as he battles an unexpected enemy who will hit back at everyone he holds dear--including Willow whose competence
and experience prove to be essential to the case.
The mystery behind the identity of the woman discovered wearing a glamorous red silk dress
in the aftermath of a landslide becomes a tangled web that keeps even sharp-eyed Jimmy guessing. Jimmy is positive the woman isn’t a local; he would surely
have heard about the “exotic, dark lady” living on the edge of his community. The first clue arrives when Sandy discovers a letter that includes a first name, or at least part of
one. Jane Hay--who owns the property next to The Tain, the house where the woman was found--tells Jimmy that she thought the woman might have
seen someone matching the description at the Co-op in Brae about a week ago. As Jimmy
desperately tries to breathe life into the dead woman, he wonders why he isn’t more surprised that the woman didn’t die in the landslide after all.
Spinning her tale at her characteristic leisurely pace, Cleeves melds the desires of Shetland’s community
with the trials of recovering alcoholic Jane Hay. Cleeves pours much capital
into describing Jane's jangled nerves, her constant need to drink, and her
efforts to be more pleasant to her husband, Ken, and to her two sons, Michael
and Andy. While Andy seems to drift further away with every passing day, Ken
broods about the imagined image of a dead woman “as if it is something he just can’t bear to share.”
The mudslide’s dark scar becomes a murky symbol for the loosening foundations of the Hay family.
Perez and his two team members prove that they’re on the case. Sandy pokes around the ruined Tain while Jimmy visits the home of the Magnus Tate, distracted from the moment he enters the place by memories of the old man and his beloved Fran. Willow questions Simon Agnew, Jane’s new friend who has recently moved to Shetland and into the old manse in Ravenswick. Ostensibly looking for peace and tranquility but also restless for new projects, Simon
embodies the story’s mélange of strange coincidences and connections around the two victims, who are perhaps linked by a chance meeting years ago.
“People think there are no secrets in Shetland. but they’re wrong, we all have secrets, it’s the only way we can keep sane.” Willow is clearly frustrated by the slow progress of the investigation
and irritated by the riddles she’s convinced the Hay family are keeping. Someone is certainly keeping secrets as the team sets about searching the lonely beaches under Shetland’s big, bleak skies. Crucial to the case
are the whereabouts of Mayor Tom Rogerson. Tom knows everyone in the community and often acts as a bridge between the islanders, the oil industry, and environmentalists. Jimmy
believes that Tom is connected somehow to the dark-eyed, dark-haired dead woman.
There’s some violence combined with social commentary about those living on the outskirts of society who are forced to resort to prostitution, with all of its implications. The real power of Cleeves’s tale rests in the landscape of Shetland, a place of rain, winter, and gloomy, murky shadows. Beautiful and distant, eternally sheathed in gray, the Islands provide isolation and safety for their inhabitants
yet expand the claustrophobia of a community whose crucial trust is shattered, until Jimmy once again fulfills his mission of restoring it.