RogerBW's Blog

Raven Black, Ann Cleeves 18 February 2019

2006 mystery; first in Cleeves' Shetland Island series. In a village near Lerwick, two schoolgirls visit the local mad old man, on a bet. Five days later, one of them is dead. The old man was blamed, though not convicted, when a young girl vanished eight years ago and was never found, so everyone assumes he's done it again; Inspector Jimmy Perez tries to move beyond the automatic assumption of guilt and find out what's really happened this time.

Although the book doesn't do that annoying trick of cutting away to the murderer plotting their crimes, it does have multiple viewpoints; as well as Jimmy, there's Sally Henry, the other girl, coping with the loss of her best friend, and Fran Hunter, divorced and with a small child, who finds the body. And there's Magnus Tait, the old man, who clearly has substantial cognitive impairments, but has managed to get along all right… until everyone turns against him.

It's a slow-burn mystery, with a sense of lurking menace in the most normal things. It has plausible teenagers doing plausible teenage things, and people taking advantage of them, or is it vice versa (or both)? It has the slow rhythm of island life in winter. Most importantly for me it has people, including Perez, who think about the mystery through the lens of who they are, rather than being reasoning-machines that jump straight to the right answer.

Perhaps it's too slow in the middle, but it feels as though there's a constant trickle of new evidence, with theories having to be revised as one goes. The ending is perhaps a bit abrupt, but there is a sequel to carry on some of the threads not directly related to the crime.

Followed by White Nights.

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Series: Shetland Island | Next in series: White Nights

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