Raven Black


Ann Cleeves


Mystery & Thriller


Date Reviewed:

March 14, 2021

aven Black is the first novel in a The Shetland Island Mysteries, which currently totals eight volumes. Raven Black won the 2006 Gold Dagger from the Crime Writers Association of Great Britian. The story is set on Shetland Island, which is an isolated island north of Scotland in between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.

Raven Black is a murder mystery. A teenage girl named Catherine Ross is found lying dead in the snow by a woman walking her dog. Ravens are picking at her eyes. The dead girl lies not far from the house of the notorious Magnus Tait. Everyone instantly is sure of Tait's guilt, because eight years earlier, a young girl named Catriana Bruce disappeared from Shetland Island. Catriana's body was never found, and there was no physical evidence to tie her death to Magnus, so Magnus was set free after questioning by the police. But Magnus has endured the hostility and suspicions of the neighbors ever since. Naturally, being a crime writer, Cleeves hints at possible guilt by Magnus, but the reader knows that would be too easy - the obvious suspect is never the guilty one in a crime novel, right? Or does Cleeves have a surprise planned for reader's expectations?

The protagonist of the novel is Jimmy Perez, a police inspector. Despite his Spanish sounding surname, Perez's family has lived on Shetland Island for generations, he suggests that a remote ancestor of his was a sailor who survived a wreck of the Spanish Armada. Perez investigates the murder, which mostly means interviewing people. I was disappointed by how passive Perez was in this book, he doesn't seem to piece clues together to arrive closer to the truth.

The novel is told from several different viewpoints, each chapter is devoted to one person's perception of a sequence of events. Since the reader gets to hear the thoughts of these different characters, the reader learns the background of each one, and what motive they might have had for the death of Catherine.

Sally was Catherine's friend. Sally is a loner, without any other friends, shunned by the other high school kids - until the independent-minded Catherine moved to the island with her father and befriended Sally. Now Catherine is gone, and Sally is alone again; she is focused on the older, hunky Robert Isbister. Sally may swoon for the dark Isbister, but to the reader he radiates menace and violence.

Fran Hunter is the divorced wife of Duncan Hunter. Duncan Hunter is the local big-shot of Shetland Island - he is a wealthy man who owns a mansion where wild parties are thrown. There is an annual party each year, a Shetland Island tradition called Up Helly Aa, where bonfires burn and the citizens let loose. Perez eventually learns the Catherine Ross had been at one of the parties at the Hunter mansion on the night before she perished. Fran has a young daughter named Cassie, and she frets that Shetland Island is unsafe for her girl. This is a plot device to heighten tension.

Mr Scott is the English teacher at the high school. He seems to be inordinately familiar with Catherine Ross's activities.

We also meet the fathers of Sally and Catherine Ross (Alex Henry and Euan Ross). They are a mixture of grief and suspicion. Indeed, the Ross family lives in the very house that the Bruce's occupied before Catriana's disappearance eight years ago. Is this coincidence? Is it coincidence that the first names of both dead girls begin with the letter 'C'?

In the end, it seems to me the villain botched it. The perpetrator could have let another take the blame, but makes a decision that ultimately results in the whole case unraveling. Raven Black was interesting enough that once I started, I kept reading it (as opposed to picking up another book, as I am wont to do, I sometimes read a couple of books at the same time.) But I am not sure if I will read book two in this series, though the series does seem to be highly regarded.