Thursday, October 03, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Raven Black (Shetland Islands, #1) by Ann Cleeves

This is the first book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland Islands series starring Inspector Jimmy Perez. The Shetland Islands are remote, sparsely populated islands north of Scotland and west of Norway that are part of the United Kingdom.

Raven Black begins with the discovery of a dead teenaged girl named Catherine. Almost a decade earlier another young girl named Catriona had disappeared and her body was never found. In both cases, a mentally challenged bachelor named Magnus Tait had been one of the last people to see the victim. Many people on the islands shunned him and there was a widespread belief he had gotten away with murder because no body had been found. When Catherine’s body is found they expect him to be arrested immediately.

Inspector Jimmy Perez is not so sure. The cases have some similarities but a lot of differences also. Both girls were parts of families who had moved to the Shetlands from “down south.” Both girls were considered independent and “high spirited.” Catherine was considered very intelligent by her teachers and popular in school. Ann Cleeves tells the story using first-person accounts from very many characters, including Catherine, her best friend Sally, Jimmy, Magnus and several others.

Raven Black is an atmospheric, psychological thriller about the effects of a violent crime in a very small community where everyone knows everything about their neighbors. However, newcomers arrive fairly often and try (and often fail) to be integrated into the community. Jimmy himself is from the community and went to the same schools as the murder victims but his family is from an even more remote island and they are clamoring for him to come home and stop this “police foolishness.”

The killer of the two girls (and the abductor of a third girl, another strong-willed outsider whose name begins with C) is revealed at the end, and it came as a complete and utter shock to me. That’s not that unusual as murder mystery novels go. However I think to maintain my interest in a series I need to be invested in the main character/detective and be intrigued/interested/amused by their sidekicks/colleagues. Jimmy Perez basically works alone. The setting of the book, in this remote small community IS the companion character. Sometimes if the setting is very unfamiliar that can provide a source of interest. Also one can be interested in a setting which is also very familiar. 

Unfortunately, Raven Black did not fully engage my interest. I’m somewhat surprised by this because I know the Shetland Islands mysteries have been adapted into a very popular BBC TV series. However, I doubt I’ll be continuing. There are so many other detective series I’m interested in making progress on, like Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan, Val McDermid’s Tony Hill/Carol Jordan and (of course) Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae. Life’s too short to wade through books one does not connect with.

Title: Raven Black.
Ann Cleeves.
Paperback: 374 pages.
 Minotaur Books.
Date Published: May 29, 2007.
Date Read: September 30, 2019.

★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+ (3.33/4.0).


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