Mima Wilson lives alone on the island of Whalsay in the Shetland Islands. Her husband died decades before in a fishing boat accident. Her son and daughter-in-law live nearby; a grandson lives in Edinburgh with his family and a second grandson, Sandy Wilson, is a police officer with the Shetland police in Lerwick, the islands’ largest city.
An archaeological dig is underway on Mima’s property, as students are excavating what appears to be a 14th-15th century structure. Mima loves having the students around, providing tea and a warm kitchen to talk.
Then Sandy finds his grandmother dead, shot with a shotgun outside the house. It looks like an accident – a neighbor, Ronald Clouston, was shooting rabbits at night. Ronald and Sandy have been good friends since they were children.
Detective Jimmy Perez leads the investigation and agrees that Mima’s death looks accidental. But he hangs around, asking questions, telling everyone he’s simply finishing procedural matters. He has no ostensible reason, but something is niggling. A few days later, Perez is called by one of the students at the dig, telling him she needs to talk with him. When he arrives for their meeting, she’s not there. Her body is found at the dig, and it looks like an apparent suicide.
Red Bones by Ann Cleeves is the third in the Detective Jimmy Perez / Shetland series, first published in 2009. Cleeves unwinds the story slowly, swirling in family jealousy, Shetland history, academics behaving badly, and Perez’s own romance to create a captivating story.
Cleeves has published seven mysteries in the Jimmy Perez / Shetland series, including Raven Black (2008), White Nights (2010), Blue Lightning (2011), 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. The Jimmy Perez novels are the basis for the BBC television series “Shetland.” Cleeves lives in northeastern England.
Red Bones is done extraordinarily well. The readers and the characters aren’t entirely sure this is truly a murder mystery until about three fourths of the way through the novel. But it doesn’t matter; the book is crafted so well that we simply get wrapped in the story.
Top photograph: An archaeological site in the Shetland Islands, courtesy Bates.edu.