My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ever since experiencing a fascinating visit to Scotland’s Iona and Staffa Islands a few years back, I became interested in other islands in the region. Books set in the British Isles always appeal to me, and I regularly troll the new book release lists looking for new titles and/or authors. In the case of Raven Black, it was the author’s name (Henry VIII’s fourth wife) that hooked me. Also, the names Shetland and Fair Isle have long been familiar to me as an avid knitter, so I just had to give Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series a try.
Like another popular novel series set in Scotland, Raven Black is a book involving outlanders. The first one we meet is Fran Hunter, who, following her divorce, relocated to Shetland from London so her daughter could have contact with her father, a prominent island native. She is struggling to find a niche in the small, literally insular, community where most families have lived for generations. Not surprisingly, it’s the sort of place where everybody knows everybody else and everybody else’s secrets, things not shared with outsiders. When she discovers the strangled body of another newcomer, high school student Catherine Ross, Fran will quickly learn what many of those secrets are.
Detective Jimmy Perez, called in from nearby Fair Isle, is the next incomer on the scene. Nearly everyone he interviews throws suspicion on an elderly local man, who was implicated but not accused in the disappearance of another young girl eight years earlier. Perez, being familiar with the way of life, resists jumping to conclusions, always observing, listening, reading between the lines.
This is a tautly plotted mystery full of local atmosphere, tradition, and complex characters. Perez slowly teases out the conflicts and resentments that underlie community relationships, and he finds no dearth of suspects as well as an abundance of clues. But clues are not evidence, and not until the killer makes another move, during the biggest folkloric festival of the year, do his theories crystallize. There’s plenty of local color and attitude from start to finish, and none of the many clues are tells. The surprising and satisfactory ending left me eagerly anticipating the sequel, White Nights.