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Cleeves, Ann - 'Raven Black'
Trade Paperback: 376 pages (Jun. 2006) Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia ISBN: 1405090014

Have you ever read a new-to-you author and wondered what on earth took you so long to discover them? RAVEN BLACK is Ann Cleeves nineteenth novel and I'm wondering why I wasn't aware of her before now. She has two series and a number of stand-alones to her name.

RAVEN BLACK is the first of a planned quartet of books set on the Island of Shetland, one of a large group of small islands to the North of Scotland of which only fifteen are inhabited. It's a small place, easily cut off from the rest of the world if the weather is bad. Everyone knows everyone else and people feel comfortable going out and leaving their house unlocked. This sense of security is shattered when sixteen-year-old Catherine Ross is found one cold January morning lying in the snow, strangled to death with her own scarf. The obvious suspect is old Magnus Tait whom everyone knows isn't "the full shilling". Magnus lives alone in the cottage of his late mother and was the prime suspect a number of years earlier when a young girl named Catriona disappeared.

Detective Jimmy Perez is the first investigator on the scene. He grew up on the neighbouring Fair Isle and is familiar with the locals and the way of life. Determined to get a head start before the Senior officer and his team arrive from Aberdeen on the mainland, Jimmy begins to question the locals. Luckily for Jimmy his senior officer, the driven energizer-bunny Inspector Taylor, is wise enough to recognize that Jimmy's local knowledge is an asset and allows him to have his head. Together they try to unravel the inter-connecting relationships and secrets to discover who killed Catherine.

RAVEN BLACK works well on a number of levels. First off it's a first-class whodunit. All the clues are there if you can figure it out (I didn't). On top of that, the author gives the reader a glimpse of life in a small isolated community. A fascinating layer-cake of things determine attitudes; an unacknowledged hierarchy revolving around how long a given family has lived on the island and their prosperity or otherwise; open secrets that aren't spoken about; the difficulties recent arrivals have in being accepted and a whole host of other things. I could give you examples but that would spoil half the intrigue of the book.

On Ann Cleeves' website ( Ann has given her reasons for planning on writing only four books in this series. To quote the author "While Shetland couldn't sustain an indefinite series - there are limited plot lines and it would stretch credibility to have too many murders in such a small community - I would like to write more about Jimmy Perez. The islands lie so far to the north that seasonal variation is dramatic. I think Shetland could carry four novels, each set at a different time of the year. It will be like reading about four different places. The pace and flavour of each book will be different, reflecting the season in which it's set."

I shall look forward to Cleeves' next Shetland book with a great deal of anticipation.

NB. This review refers to the Australian edition of RAVEN BLACK. RAVEN BLACK is also available in UK hardback and paperback.

Read another review of RAVEN BLACK.

Sunnie Gill, Australia
December 2006

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 8/05/2009 15:13