If you saw the recent BBC drama Shetland you might find Ann Cleeves's Raven Black confusing. Clearly part of the TV programme was based on it, but it seems that maybe two books were combined. It was the drama production that convinced me to try this novel. I enjoyed the show immensely and thought the characters were worth more attention. I wasn’t wrong. The brooding scenery and the intensity of island relationships come across very well. There was enough emphasis on detective Jimmy Perez’s position as an outsider – a Fair Isle man making a living on Shetland – to highlight the oppression of living in a community where everyone else has always known your business.
At least I finally got an explanation of why a Fair Isler had a name like Perez in the first place! I just wish I hadn’t spent the whole read swinging from parts I recognised to a completely new tale. And I was stuck with Douglas Henshall's face as the main character. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a perfectly fine face, but I probably wouldn’t have cast him if I’d read before I viewed.
If you didn’t see the programme you will have no problems at all with this well crafted and well written tale. Cleeve’s writing is tight and easy to read. The plot is convincing and the killer’s motives are justifiable (in crime writing terms) . There are sufficient red herrings among the genuine clues and a smattering of old Shetland history and culture woven among the details of a more universal crime.
The book opens with two young girls on their way home after a New Year night on the town, visiting an old man to wish him well for the coming year. He has been a recluse since the death of his mother and is distrusted by the locals for his suspected part in the unsolved disappearance of a young girl many years before. When one of the girls is later found strangled in the snow near his house the rumours begin.
Since I knew the TV version of the story I can’t tell you whether you’ll see the ending coming or not. I suspect you might. But it doesn’t really matter if you do. Read the book for the atmosphere and enjoyment of it. You won’t be sorry.
O, to be in England Now that April 's there, And whoever wakes in England Sees, some morning, unaware, That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough In England—now!
Backwoods Canada, depths of January, and the townspeople of Murphy's Harbour are getting ready for their Winter Carnival. One of the events is a beauty pageant, which turns sour when the out-of-town winner is snatched by kidnappers, just as she is about to receive her crown.
At first it looks as if it's a publicity stunt by a Women's Liberation group, but when local cop Reid Bennett and his police dog Sam find the strangled body of one of the feminists in a nearby motel it's obvious there's more to the crime than first suspected.
Bennett sets off to rescue the snatched beauty queen but his efforts are hampered by the interference of other group members, who seem not to understand that their scheme has been hijacked by vicious thugs with a murderous agenda of their own.
Corpses turn up in unlikely places and Bennett battles both the killers and the weather in his efforts to bring all the gang to justice.
It has to be remembered that the book was written in 1984, so some of its attitudes need to be forgiven. The world has matured since then. Much of the phraseology about feminism and homosexuality can be explained as being correct for the characters, but the book also gives the impression that author Ted Wood might have had a few issues of his own.