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on 19 March 2007
This novel won the Crime Writers' Association Duncan Lawrie Dagger for 2006. It is the first Ann Cleeves book I've read, and it won't be the last. It's a neatly constructed crime novel, perfectly paced and beautifully written - the psychological crime novel meets the old-fashioned whodunit.

The novel begins at New Year in the Shetland home of elderly Magnus Tait. A few days later an incomer to the island, Fran Hunter, discovers the body of teenager Catherine Ross in the snow not far from the old man's house. The islanders believe Tait had murdered a young schoolgirl, Catriona Bruce, eight years before and are all certain who must have murdered Catherine. Thrown into this psychological mix is Jimmy Perez, the lonely detective assigned to the case. Jimmy is `emotional incontinent', and you would think he would have trouble suspecting anyone of murder. And yet, slowly but surely, he uncovers the strained relationships and hidden secrets that lead him to the killer.

The sense of place is tremendous - the cold and the isolation are tangible. And the author has captured perfectly the sense of a community seemingly united but with tensions and divisions just below the surface. There are echoes of the cult movie The Wicker Man, with the outsider policeman coming to Shetland to solve the murder against the background of the forthcoming Up Helly Aa fire festival.

There is a fairly large cast of characters, and therefore many suspects, but Ann Cleeves draws each of them well, giving them unique voices of their own. There are clues and red herrings, and I enjoyed trying to solve the mystery before Perez finally discovers the identity of the murderer. And despite my amateur sleuthing, I was completely wrong and satisfyingly surprised when the killer was revealed. The identity of Catriona's killer is also uncovered (I got that wrong, too!) as the novel reaches its satisfying climax.

There are three more novels promised in this series, and I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the next one.
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on 25 August 2006
Anne Cleeves' 'Raven Black' perfectly catches the spirit of Shetland, it's people and the tight-knit communities that make up these remote islands. Her cast are beautifully realistic and the rendering of the landscapes allows you to picture the scenes with crystal clarity. Capturing the unique character of the Shetland people and that of the 'Incomers', or 'Soothmoothers', that are attempting to adapt and integrate has leant an uncannily accurate, real-life feel to her fictional story. The subdued undercurrent of tension between the islanders and the Mainlanders who arrive, thinking that they are more cosmopolitan and worldly-wise than the locals, nicely demonstrates the quiet, knowing confidence of a population who are far more cultured and cosmopolitan than a visitor would suspect. Anne works this into the general feel of the novel and also evokes memories of the trials and tribulations of childhood and family life.

The plot and its main and supporting characters build and progress evenly, elevating the suspense and developing it all the way to a most satisfying and unsuspected ending. I do not normally read crime novels and only did so on this occassion because of its location but I would recommend Anne's book wholeheartedly to all, but especially to Shetlanders and anyone else that is in love with the 'Auld Rock'.
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'Twenty past one in the morning on New Year's Day. Magnus knew the time because of the fat clock, his mother's clock, which squatted on the shelf over the fire.'

The opening lines introduce a Shetland islander waiting to be first footed on New Year's Eve, even though nobody has visited him for years. The novel quickly sets up both the mystery aspects and the psychological thriller aspects of this story. Magnus has been isolated from the rest of this small island community for years. The novel is partly an exploration of the history of this and whether it is justified. As readers, Cleeves places us like the camera that one of the girl victims held up to this island community - we see the pieces and try to fit them together to solve the mystery. The sense of place is excellent and Jimmy Perez is an intriguing detective that we want more of - so I'm not surprised that this will be the first in a series. Perez is descended from a Spaniard wrecked on the Fair Isles and the novel deals with the themes of heredity and inheritance as well as exclusion.

I found this novel because it won the 2006 Duncan Lawrie Dagger for best crime novel and will now read more Cleeves.
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on 7 February 2008
Easy to see why this novel won the 2006 Dagger award for best crime novel.
The body of young schoolgirl Catherine Ross ios discovered one morning immediately the close knit community suspect local man Magnus Tait a simpleton who was previously suspected of having killed another girl who disappeared years before on this normally quiet island of Shetland.

Ann Cleeves perfectly paints the picture of the small island where everyone seems to know everyone else's business, the job of solving the murder falls to local detective Jimmy Perez whose hardest job seems to be convincing his team not to jump to conclusions like the locals is perfect any other author and you want bet Perez would be from the city and struggling to deal with this closed community but instead Perez comes from an even smaller more remote island.

There are characters galore and therefore plenty of suspects, I really can't see anyone reading this and guessing the murderer of either of the girls. Is it the same person or someone different ? There aren't that many similarities between the two victims or are there ? Yet when the motives are explained it was entirely plausible.

One other reviewer mentioned The Wicker man and I agree it was something I thought of frequently whilst reading this as much is written on the build on to the Up Helly Aa celebration which seems very similar to the pagan festival in Wicker Man. I think though the book benefitted from not having the outside policeman sent to investigate but instead having Perez already based there.

I note with interest that the author plans to write a Shetland Quartet of novels featuring Inspector Perez with the next White Nights due 4th April 2008. I will certainly by reading that as this was a gripping thriller brilliantly written.

A big story set on a small island
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I thoroughly enjoyed this detective story, the first in the Shetland Quartet, and on the strength of this one, I definitely plan to read the other three. Set in the freezing cold of January, the discovery of the body of a teenaged girl reminds the close-knit community of the disappearance of a child eight years earlier, and in the present, as in the past, the prime suspect appears to be Magnus Tait, a lonely old man who lives with just his memories and a raven for company.
The detective Jimmy Perez is a likeable and multi-layered character, and most of the central figures in the story are well-drawn and believable. The plot moves along at a good pace and I became really gripped by it and found it difficult to put the book down. There are clues as to the murderer's identity throughout, although only with the benefit of hindsight was I able to spot them, and there are of course red herrings to lead you off course. I was genuinely surprised when the killer was revealed and had no idea at all! I've deducted one star because I felt the motive for the killing was slightly weak, but this is the only criticism I would make of the plot.
Towering over the entire novel though is Shetland itself, the close-knit community, the landscape, the coast, and Ann Cleeves is really successful in grounding her story so well in its setting and making it an integral part.
A really good read and recommended to lovers of well-plotted and well-written crime novels.
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A modern slick crime thriller set in the Shetlands. On a bleak, windswept and snowy landscape a girl's body is discovered and all suspicion falls upon 'troll' Magnus Tait. As the story develops it appears he may have 'previous' but did he do it?

Ms Cleeves has clearly done extensive research on both the geography and history of the Shetlands, as the novel covers the period between the New Year and the 'Up Helly Aa' celebrations. She has a pacy style with short sentences and punchy chapters that immediately drew me in and the novel sped by.

Well, it sped by until three quarters of the way through, at which point I began to feel like the jockey on board Crisp in the Grand National. The book suddenly meandered and struggled for the finishing line to deliver an implausible and second-rate finish. It is still a good read but not an excellent one.
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This is the first in Anne Cleeves Shetland series. Although I love crime novels, I had not read any of this author’s books before, but I am pleased that I finally did get around to it, as this was an excellent book, with interesting characters and a good setting.

When sixteen year old Catherine Ross is found murdered by Fran Hunter, the crime brings back old memories to the residents of the island. For eight years ago, another little girl went missing and her body was never found. At the time, Magnus Tait, an old man who lives alone, was rumoured to be guilty of the crime. Now, he is also linked to Catherine Ross and the whispers start again.

Inspector Perez is a local man, despite his Spanish name, and he is not convinced of Tait’s guilt. What follows is an interesting cast of suspects – there is Fran Hunter’s ex-husband, Catherine’s widowed father, the wealthy Robert Ibister and others. As the story unfolded, I was happy to go along and not even try to guess the murderer, which did catch me completely by surprise. If you like well written crime books, with a good setting, then this is a good series to try.
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on 13 November 2006
Read this because of the award it picked up and the book doesnt disappoint.

The author makes great use of the location and the characterisation is good enough that you can keep up with all their relationships with each other - to be expected on an island.

The book is a genuine page turner - short chapters end, time is getting on, but you are left wanting to read the next one just to find out what happened. This is a major credit and a long time since a crime book has done this for me.

On reflection, the plot doesn't hold out to too much scrutiny and you wonder how much bad luck one woman can have in a community where you dont need to lock the doors but overall, a success.
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on 24 September 2007
In 1990, at the London Bouchercon crime fiction convention, a group of Americans recommended Ann Cleves to me. Unfortunately,I never got round to reading her until this month.
This is an excellent crime novel, brilliantly paced. She introduces several plausible suspects and I kept switching allegiances every few chapters.
I hope Raven Black gets adapted to a TV series.
I will certainly be reading her other books.
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on 26 March 2010
This is the first of four books of the "Shetland series" which she wrote whilst still living in Yorkshire. You can imagine what winter must be like for the Islanders from her knowledgeable writing. It revolves around the discovery of two girls bodies on the Island where all attention is focused on the prime suspect, the Island simlpeton. However all is not what it seems. Anne gives a good account of life on the Island and of the close community with all its good and bad points. The end is not obvious and I look forward to the next in the series
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