EXCERPT: It was the colours that caught her attention. Often the colours on the Island were subtle, olive green, mud brown, sea grey and all softened by mist. In the full sunlight of early morning, this picture was stark and vibrant. The harsh white of the snow. Three shapes, silhouetted. Ravens. In her painting they would be angular shapes, cubist almost. Birds roughly carved from hard black wood. And then that splash of colour. Red, reflecting the scarlet ball of the sun.
She left the sledge at the side of the track and crossed the field to see the scene more closely. There was a gate from the road. The snow stopped her pushing it open so she climbed it. A stone wall split the field in two, but in places it had collapsed and there was a gap big enough for a tractor to get through. As she grew nearer the perspective shifted, but that didn’t bother her. She had the paintings fixed firmly in her mind. She expected the ravens to fly off, had even been hoping to see them in flight. The sight of them aloft, the wedge shaped tail tilted to hold each steady, would inform her image of them on the ground.
Her concentration was so fierce, and everything seemed unreal here, surrounded by the reflected light which made her head swim, that she walked right up to the sight before realizing exactly what she was seeing. Until then everything was just form and colour. Then the vivid red turned into a scarf. The grey coat and the white flesh merged into the background of the snow which wasn’t so clean here. The ravens were pecking at a girl’s face. One of the eyes had disappeared.
Fran recognized the young woman, even in this altered, degraded state. The birds had fluttered away briefly as she had approached but now, as she stood motionless, watching, they returned. Suddenly she screamed, so loudly that she could feel the strain in the back of her throat and clapped her hands to send the birds circling into the sky. But she couldn’t move from the spot.
It was Catherine Ross. There was a red scarf tight around her neck, the fringe spread like blood in the snow.
ABOUT ‘RAVEN BLACK’: Raven Black begins on New Year’s Eve with a lonely outcast named Magnus Tait, who stays home waiting for visitors who never come. But the next morning the body of a murdered teenage girl is discovered nearby, and suspicion falls on Magnus. Inspector Jimmy Perez enters an investigative maze that leads deeper into the past of the Shetland Islands than anyone wants to go.
MY THOUGHTS: I love Ann Cleeves writing. She certainly knows how to set an atmosphere. Set in the Shetland Islands, she has recreated the claustrophobic atmosphere of the islands and the people who live there.
Raven Black is the first book in Cleeves’ Shetland series featuring Detective Jimmy Perez who, despite his name, was born in the islands.
Cleeves characters are very real. Perez has some personal decisions to make, as does Fran,who discovered the bodies. Yes, there is more than one. Everyone from Magnus, the reclusive old man accused of murdering a girl who disappeared some years earlier, to Catherine Ross, the girl found murdered on the hillside near Magnus’s home, are depicted so well that I could visualise them, and hear them speak.
Raven Black is an excellent murder mystery, one that kept me guessing to the end. There are several twists and surprises along the way that enhanced the plot.
I had, some years ago, watched the TV series both of Shetland and Vera and I can heartily recommend both, along with the books.
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THE AUTHOR: Ann grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. Her father was a village school teacher. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs – child care officer, women’s refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard – before going back to college and training to be a probation officer.
While she was cooking in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, she met her husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist. She was attracted less by the ornithology than the bottle of malt whisky she saw in his rucksack when she showed him his room. Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person’s not heavily into birds – and Ann isn’t – there’s not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing. Her first series of crime novels features the elderly naturalist, George Palmer-Jones. A couple of these books are seriously dreadful.
In 1987 Tim, Ann and their two daughters moved to Northumberland and the north east provides the inspiration for many of her subsequent titles. The girls have both taken up with Geordie lads. In the autumn of 2006, Ann and Tim finally achieved their ambition of moving back to the North East.
DISCLOSURE: I own my copy of Raven Black written by Ann Cleeves and published by Pan Macmillan. I read Raven Black for the Goodreads.com Crime, Mysteries and Thrillers March 2021 Mysteries for a cold winter’s night group read. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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