Raven Black is the first in a series of mystery novels set in the Shetland Islands, the remote northern islands off the Scottish coast. Catherine Ross, a young teen who recently moved to the island, is found dead in the snow one morning by her neighbor Fran Hunter, her eyes being picked at by ravens. The local loner is immediately suspected by the most of the town; Catherine was seen heading toward his home the day before she was found, and he was the only suspect in the disappearance of a young woman nearly a decade earlier. The girl was never found, but with a second death, the town can’t stop themselves from suspecting Magnus Tait.
Magnus’ only hope is in the local detective, Jimmy Perez – he isn’t convinced that a sweet old man (who is likely mentally handicapped) could have killed Catherine. He spends the remainder of the novel trying to discover the true culprit before the entire island is convinced of his guilt. While on this journey the reader is also introduced to the various townspeople and their histories. We meet Sally Henry, Catherine’s best (and only) friend; Robert Isbister, the local playboy who can’t seem to grow up; Duncan Hunter, Fran’s partying ex-husband; and Euan, Catherine’s grieving widower father.
I enjoyed reading this book, as I do most mysteries. Its pace is fairly quick, there aren’t an unlikely number of twists and turns and red herrings, and the detective is flawed but not tortured as has become so popular in a lot of mysteries these days. I only began to figure out who the murderer is right before we’re told, but at the same time it didn’t feel completely unlikely. I am definitely adding the next book in the series to my ‘To Read’ shelf on Goodreads.
While this is an entertaining mystery I did find that without Cleeves having to lay the groundwork for her series the story would have been pretty short. She sets up the scenery well, and I could picture the islands and the characters almost as if I had been there. We spend a lot of time learning about the Up Helly Aa festival the town celebrates every January, the history of Fran and Duncan’s relationships, Jimmy’s growing uncertainty about remaining a detective versus returning to his family on Fair Isle to become a farmer, and Sally’s crippling self-esteem issues. This isn’t really a negative, it’s just that so little time is spent on following clues and the actual investigation that sometimes you forget you’re reading a whodunit. I did like this book and will keep on with the rest of the “Shetland Quartet” to see what else goes on in this tiny place.