White Nights

Ann Cleeves, Author . St. Martin's Minotaur/Dunne $24.95 (391p) ISBN 978-0-312-38433-3

In Dagger-winner Cleeves's uneven second installment in her Shetland Island quartet (after Raven Black ), Insp. Jimmy Perez sees a stranger sobbing in front of a painting at an art exhibit featuring the work of Perez's new girlfriend, Fran Hunter, and mythic local painter Bella Sinclair. Claiming to be suffering from amnesia, the unknown man disappears before Perez can question him further, but turns up dead that same night, hanged in a fishing shed. In his investigation, Perez focuses on Bella, whose talent is matched by her penchant for drama and extravagant parties. When another body turns up, Perez must sift through generations of closely guarded island secrets to find the truth. Despite characters as vivid as those in Raven Black , Cleeves struggles to sustain a suspenseful plot, which slows to a crawl in the middle and packs too much action at the end. Still, this slight misstep shouldn't deter fans of the introspective Perez from looking forward to Cleeves's next thriller. (Sept.)