Books based in Scotland are generally a hit with me – Scotland is my favourite place in the whole world. ‘Raven Black’ by Ann Cleeves is set in Shetland, a rugged group of islands situated over 100 miles North of mainland Scotland. The book is a crime thriller and is the first in a series, which has been televised for BBC Drama.
On her way home, Fran Hunter discovers the body of her teenage neighbour, Catherine Ross. Catherine has been strangled. Suspicion immediately falls upon Magnus Tait, a reclusive islander who has been suspected of murder before, when young Catriona Bruce went missing – her body was never found. Jimmy Perez is a local detective, who refuses to jump to the same conclusion as others. Even once Magnus has been arrested following the unearthing of Catriona’s body, Perez uses his knowledge of the community, its tensions and stories, to eke out the details which are so important in a murder investigation. The climax of the story takes place during the annual Shetland celebration Up Helly Aa, which culminates in the burning of a Norse galley. It’s a fine backdrop to the culmination of the police investigations.
Cleeves paints her characters with great skill, mirroring human loneliness in the Shetland landscape. She gradually exposes several potential suspects, all of whom had links to Catherine. There are no gruesome, bloody details, the power of this book is in the relationships woven between the islanders.
Needless to say, the murderer, once revealed, was a complete surprise to me. It always is! I am never certain whether this is due to my own failings of deduction or intuition, but it does mean that I find myself scanning back through the pages to find the clues I missed. This was an atmospheric and suspenseful read and I will be looking out for the sequels.