Catherine Ross is from “down south,” which to most Shetland residents means England. She and her father moved to Shetland two years before, after the death of her mother. Her father is caught up in his own grief and seems to be barely functioning at times. Catherine has carved a special niche for herself in the equivalent of the local high school in the Shetland town of Lerwick. She’s the girl who doesn’t care what you think, the smart, beautiful girl who wants to pursue a career in film and is already doing a video project on the people and places of Shetland, one that will show they’re no different from anyone or anywhere else.
A neighbor and also a native of England, Fran Hunter, is walking on the beach and sees ravens circling. She finds Catherine, a very dead Catherine, strangled with her own scarf. As far as the Shetlanders are concerned, the obvious suspect is Magnus Tait, an old man who “isn’t all there” and who lives nearby the crime scene. Tait was suspected in the disappearance of a little girl eight years before, but the child’s body was never found. Coincidentally, Catherine and her father had moved into the home once occupied by the family of the missing girl.
Police detective Jimmy Perez isn’t convinced the killer is Tait. As he investigates, he finds suspects abound – a teacher at Catherine’s school; the island playboy; a childhood friend of Perez; and others. And what he finds as he looks for the killer is that the town he lives and works in is a bit different from the tourist posters.
Raven Black is the first mystery by British author Ann Cleeves in the Detective Jimmy Perez series. The series is also the basis for the BBC television series Shetland (available via Netflix). And it’s a terrific story, a peeling back of town and people (including Perez himself) that goes beyond the standard mystery or crime story.
Cleeves has published seven mysteries in the Jimmy Perez / Shetland series, of which Raven Black is the first. The others are Red Bones (2009), White Nights (2010),
Blue Lightning (2010), Dead Water (2014), Thin Air (2015), and Cold Air (2017). She’s also published eight mystery novels in the Vera Stanhope series (also a television series), six Inspector Stephen Ramsay mysteries, and several others works and short stories. She lives in northeastern England.
Raven Black takes a multitude of twists and turns. Cleeves keeps the reader guessing, but she does it in an intelligent way, not with unexpected events or surprises clues but with tightly controlled plotting and character development. It’s a highly satisfying read.
Top photograph by Ignacio Giri via Unsplash. Used with permission.