(points if you get that reference in the title)
The Oddballs did not include Ann Cleeves' Shetland Islands series, Raven Black, White Nights, Red Bones, and Blue Lightning. I've read the first three, and have to say that the setting is really the star in these. They are your standard crime-in-a-rural/idiosynchratic-setting thrillers, with a local cop,the expectedly single, male, appealing fellow named Jimmy Perez. Yes, that's a Spanish surname in the very far north of the UK, adding a jarring little twist, but apparently not anachronistic, thanks to Spanish seamen who wrecked in the area centuries ago. Over the course of the books, Perez becomes enamored of, and in a relationship with a local artist named Fran. She is an outsider, while he is considered a native. Fran and her daughter are key characters in the first book, but not integral to the crimes themselves in the later ones (that I've read).
There is of course a core of Britishness, even though the Islanders would be the last to say they are at all affiliated with their southern cousins. There is a vast quantity of tea and almost as much coffee drunk in these stories. The crimes are appropriately heinous for proper British village mysteries, and the villians always good and local. Much of the tension in these stories comes from the meshing of Island natives with outsiders who've moved there for various reasons - they love the landscape, or the solitude, or the sweaters - yes, Virginia, there really is a Fair Isle, and they knit like crazy up there. But it is not hard to see why people love it there, since Cleeves' descriptions of the light, the sea, the barren landscape, and the shingle are hypnotic. They jarr, nicely, against the spot-on discussions of the local fishing economy, role of tourism, and challenges of an encroaching modern world on a place with deeply traditional social, political, and economic roots. This tension is best demonstrated in Red Bones where the wealth that came with fishing and the glory that came with assisting the Norwegian underground in WW2 is beginning to stagnate, causing all kinds of problems, that are in turn presented against the backdrop of an archeological dig, of course revealing that these are age-old challenges.
I found the plots almost secondary here, now that I think about it. Particularly with Raven Black, the ending seemed to come from nowhere, and I hate that - feels like the author just needed to tie it up and said oh I know, I'll have HIM/HER do it. (Don't want to give it away!) I know I've said I don't want to figure it out in Chapter Three, but neither do I want it tied up too quickly at the end. One wants to work to solve the mystery, but then to be able to look back and see the signs adding up. So I liked the bit of historico-social overlay, but do I remember who did what to whom in the modern story? Alas, no.
Now, I've been kind of holding off on reading the final installment, Blue Lightning, because I made the mistake of reading some reviews on Amazon, and people are REALLY divided on this last story. Apparently something shocking will happen at the end that really pissed off devotees of the series. I'm guessing that Jimmy or Fran are either killed, or revealed as the villain in whatever the drama will be. But I've been feeling at loose ends with it, so I'll get Blue Lightning at the next opportunity. And perhaps a sweater.