Odd that Raven Black’s front-cover labels it “a thriller.” Set on the remote Scottish isle of Shetland, this mystery doesn’t involve a single car chase, pub brawl, time bomb, or gunpoint abduction. On the contrary: things unfurl slowly here, where commonplace domestic worries weigh as heavily as piecing together the connection between two girls’ deaths. Everybody in this small community knows everybody, raising the creepy question: does anybody ever really know anybody?
Ann Cleeves is brilliant at building suspense out of her characters’ self-absorbed observations and assumptions. Her point-of-view choices are bold: the story opens through the eyes of Magnus Tait, a slow-witted recluse who lives with a caged raven and quickly becomes a suspect, and shifts to schoolgirl Sally Hardy, who can’t help rejoicing when her best friend’s murder boosts her social standing. Our anchor and main POV character is local police detective Jimmy Perez (who looks nothing like actor Doug Henshall, who plays him on TV). Perez is conscious of his obligation to stay objective, maintaining an overview, yet inevitably he too is biased — sometimes hobbled — by his relationships with the neighbors he’s investigating.
My only quibbles with this absorbing novel were that I wasn’t entirely convinced whodunnit, and Ann Cleeves deserves a better copyeditor. I plan to read more of her books, as well as keep watching both the Shetland and Vera TV series.