Friday, October 16, 2009

a review of Raven Black

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
(Minotaur Books, ISBN 978-0312359669)

In this, the first in her Shetland Island Quartet, Cleeves introduces us to Inspector Jimmy Perez and the Shetland community that he calls home. On the surface, it is a rather remote community in the already remote Shetland island, a quiet, pleasant place where everyone knows their neighbors and no one locks their doors. But as is true in any good mystery, there are forces simmering below the surface that we will soon see.

Walking home one morning from dropping her little girl off at the local school, Fran Hunter, herself an artist, is drawn to something in a nearby field. She is struck by the image of black ravens, circling in the sky above a splash of red visible against the stark, new, white snow. She crossed the field for a closer look and is shocked to find the dead body of a young girl, a high school student who lived nearby. Around her neck is the red scarf she was strangled with.

Perez, the local inspector, begins the investigation, soon assisted by his colleagues from the mainland. Many of the locals turn there suspicions immediately to a local man, the odd, reclusive Magnus Tait, who was suspected in the disappearance of a little girl 8 years ago. Perez, who is from the neighboring Fair Isle but who attended school on the Shetlands as a boy and knows many of the locals, is not so easily convinced. Soon the investigation, will takes us into the lives of many in this small community, unveiling lies from both the past and into the present, throwing a wide web of suspicion, up to the mystery's quite surprising conclusion.

As I said, this is the first book in Cleeves quartet set in the Shetland Island but it is the second one of the series that I read. The other, White Nights, was one of the first books I reviewed when I started blogging and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed this one. Cleeves is a very good writer who takes this book beyond a simply mystery story. First of all, the Shetland Islands are a wonderful setting for a book, the discussion about some of their cultural history, life on the island and the beautiful landscape very interesting. Second, Cleeves is very skilled at portraying an interesting cast of characters. Although there are a fairly large number of people in the book each is so very clearly drawn, there is no problem keeping them straight. This is a very character driven story, often advanced by Perez's quiet, unusual inquiries, revealing any number of strong motives. She also excels at portraying this small, isolated community and the interactions that can develop, especially in a group so easily cut off for periods of time from the rest of the world by the harsh weather. Years of history together, secrets know but often unspoken, show us that a small, rural location is no protection from the evils and jealousies of human nature everywhere.

For my money, this book, winner of the 2006 Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Crime Novel, and this whole series, including the third, Red Bones and Blue Lightning, which will be out in early 2010, is one that lovers of smart, well written mysteries can't go wrong with putting on their "to read" list.


  1. Very nice review! I have had this one in my book "closet" for some time. Do you think this book would make a good discussion choice for a mystery book group? I moderate one at my library and I like to pick authors and books a little out of the mainstream. We probably have enough copies of it in our library system. Thanks again!

  2. I do. I think there are enough psychological issues with the characters..a number of very interesting parent/child relationships...and then the setting..

  3. As always, you write wonderful reviews that make me want to read this book. I could use a mystery sometime soon.

  4. I thought I'd repay the visit. ;) Cleeves is an excellent writer, and if you get a chance to try her other series (especially Vera Stanhope), I think you'd really enjoy them.

  5. I love good mysteries, but haven't read one in a while. Your review has really made me want to read one now!

  6. Haven't read any of these, but keep seeing them. Based on your great reviews, I'm putting them onto the TBR Mountain.


please speak up, I LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!!