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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

Everybody who knows me knows I love sinking my teeth into a good mystery. So this is one genre from the Literary Exploration Challenge that posed no challenge at all. I raced through it in a lazy Sunday, sitting on my sofa under a blanket while rain spattered at the window. Easy peasy!

Literary Exploration Challenge


I've finally got round to starting a series that my Mum bought ages ago and assured me I would love. She then passed the books onto my Dad, my uncle, my aunt - basically my whole family have enjoyed them before I had a chance to! They have now finally made their way into my flat, looking a bit worse for wear but I am excited to crack on with them. I haven't read anything by Ann Cleeves before but I caught a few episodes of the Vera Stanhope series on TV and was impressed by her brilliant 'Regional Voices' initiative to help young people get work experience in publishing in London.

It is a cold January day when Fran Hunter spots a flash of red against the snowy white Shetland landscape and discovers the body of a teenage girl who has been brutally murdered. The locals naturally suspect Magnus Tait, a lonely elderly man with learning difficulties who has been given a wide berth by his neighbours since similar accusations were made against him many years ago - although these were never proven. The Shetland police force reluctantly receive reinforcements from the mainland, and these outsiders are also keen to throw the blame onto the reclusive Tait. But local detective Jimmy Perez suspects there might be more to the case than initially meets the eye.

Raven Black Ann Cleeves
It was interesting to read this soon after reading Linda Gillard's Emotional Geology. Initially I was disappointed that Raven Black didn't share that book's sense of place, that it wasn't as evocative of the isolated rural communities of the Scottish islands. It almost felt like Raven Black could be set anywhere in the UK. I later realised that compared to the tiny islands that surround it, Lerwick is actually a relatively big town with a busy seaport and lively community. It was probably important for Cleeves to establish this bustling atmosphere at the beginning of the series so that Shetland seems like a dynamic enough place that the reader believes all these crimes could conceivably occur there. I'm sure we can all think of examples of tiny fictional locations that are frequented by far more than their fair share of serial killers (I loved reading about the results of this Open University study looking at murder rates per head of fictional population!).

Jimmy Perez is an interesting lead but remains fairly enigmatic throughout this story. I feel like we've only just scratched the surface where he's concerned and am looking forward to finding out how his character is developed throughout the series. The other characters were very believable and I found Magnus Tait's story in particular quite heartbreaking. The mystery itself was gripping and had a satisfying conclusion which was genuinely surprising. 

Raven Black is an enjoyable enough mystery but I get the feeling it is almost setting the scene for the rest of the series rather than being a memorable stand-alone crime novel. Luckily I have the rest of the books at hand so I might be able to finish them before the BBC adaptation is televised later this year.


  1. Nice review Marie. Like you I've only read the first book in this series. I enjoyed it but just haven't got around to the others yet. But I've read all the Vera Stanhope ones which are wonderful.

  2. I too must get on with this series before the TV adaptation which is now being trailed. I really enjoyed the first one, and was lucky enough to hear Anne talk about this and the Vera series of books last summer - she was lovely.

    1. The second book in the series is even better! I missed the first episode in the series on Sunday so need to catch up with it some time this week.