Book Reviews

Book Review: Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves was recommended to me on my Kindle app because I like to read author Paul Doiron. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about a mystery set in a different country, with a culture and setting that was pretty alien to me. I’ll admit that the first few chapters were hard to get into. However, once I was far enough in, the mystery grabbed me and I couldn’t put it down.

Magnus Tait is an elderly loner living in the Shetland Islands, which is a series of islands off the northeast coast of Scotland. He’s learning disabled and has lived by himself since the death of his mother years before. As is the tradition, on New Year’s Eve he turns on the light and waits for visitors to come and join him for tea as the usher in the new year. The only problem is it’s widely believed that Magnus was responsible for the death of an 11-year-old girl years before, despite there not being enough evidence to charge him, and never mind to convict him. For years, he has been shunned by his neighbors.

However, two girls on their way back from a party see his light on and drop in. Cathrine Ross and Sally Henry stay a few minutes and depart. No harm done, it would seem. A few days later, Catherine is discovered dead not far from Magnus’ front door by another neighbor, Fran Hunter.

Inspector Jimmy Perez is brought in to investigate the crime. He’s going through his own issues with his life but is immediately drawn to the case. Everyone he talks to points to Magnus as the culprit. However, something doesn’t sit right with Jimmy. Can he solve this most recent murder as well as the disappearance of Catriona Bruce all those years before?

I found Raven Black to be riveting. Ann Cleeves has developed some very interesting characters in this very insular community. The suspects (besides Magnus) stretch throughout the community. There are various men who encountered Catherine and who have a reputation for liking young women, including Fran Hunter’s ex-husband. The actions of Sally’s father ad the way their home life is described make it seem that he could have a different life away from his family. The spoiled son of the wealthiest family on the island also might have an angle.

Yet, everyone besides Jimmy seems to be sure it’s Magnus.

I loved the different points of view. When Cleeves puts the reader in Magnus’ head, it sure seems that he knows more than he’s letting on. Thanks to an admonition from his mother when he was brought in for questioning in the Catriona Bruce case, he’s not willing to give up much information. Even his thoughts dance around the truth, but let the reader in on the fact that he has secrets. When we’re in Jimmy’s head, we get more of the idea of the culture of the isolated islands, and what he’s going through at this crossroads in his life. Fran gives us a unique perspective as well as she experiences PTSD after finding Catherine’s body. She was one of the few neighbors who had any kind of contact with Magnus and now she’s second-guessing herself as well as her decision to return to the island.

Cleeves manages to deliver a lot of information about each character and what it’s like to live there without it feeling like an information dump. They each have things they are struggling with in their personal lives which also happens to intersect with the murder mystery at the center of the story. There were plenty of suspects with plenty of motives, and the truth doesn’t come out until the end. I hadn’t guessed the culprit before it was revealed, although I had considered them early on ad dismissed it. I loved the doubts Jimmy expressed because they were the same ones I had for blaming Magnus, yet he does seem to know more about Catherine’s murder and Catriona’s disappearance, so it would seem to somehow be connected to him.

I found Raven Black to be a great book, especially being Cleeves’ first. Many times I’ve found an author’s first few works to be disappointing, but she does very well here with the flow of the story and disseminating information to the reader. I highly recommend it.

Next book in the series:

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