Raven Black is the first in Ann Cleeves Shetland Series. It has been on my piles for ages and when the first cooler days arrived – they are already gone again, temperatures are back to 20° – 25° C – I felt like reading it finally. I always meant to read Ann Cleeves as I had heard good things about her. While I wasn’t blown away, I still enjoyed it very much and can see why people praise her.
On a morning walk, back from school, where she dropped off her daughter, Fran Hunter discovers a dead girl in the snow. Fran has moved to Shetland because her ex-husband lives here and she wanted to give her small daughter the opportunity so see him more often. She doesn’t really fit in, and if it wasn’t for Cassie, she’d rather live in London. Cassie has adjusted better but she has some difficulties with her teacher who doesn’t like that she’s so self-assured. The teacher’s daughter, Sally, is the opposite—shy and submissive. At least until Catherine Ross arrives in Shetland. The two girl become unlikely friends. Catherine is confident and rather rebellious. And now she’s dead. Someone murdered her.
Years ago, a young girl disappeared. Her body was never found but the community suspected that the loner Magnus Tait had something to do with her disappearance. He was never convicted, but with Catherine’s murder, the old suspicions reawaken.
The two detectives in charge of the case, local Perez and Taylor from Yorkshire, aren’t convinced of Magnus’ guilt. At least not in the beginning.
Raven Black is suspenseful but the suspense wasn’t the book’s chief appeal. I really liked the characterisations and the sense of place. Ann Cleeves takes a lot of time to introduce us to her characters. Most chapters are written from a different perspective. That could have taken away a lot from the suspense but it didn’t. We got to know the characters well, but most of them still stayed suspicious.
Perez was by far one of my favourite characters. He’s become a bit of loner after his divorce, possibly always was, since his family, as the name indicates, isn’t from Shetland originally. He used to be Fran’s ex-husband’s best friend but nowadays, they don’t really see eye to eye.
As I said, this was my first Ann Cleeves novel. I wouldn’t mind reading her again. I liked the care with which she described her characters, the plotting is well done, and the writing is assured. The reader senses immediately that this is an experienced writer.
I could also imagine, that this series gets better because the main character, Perez, is interesting and likable and he’s left at a point in his life where a lot of changes could be expected.
The Shetland Series has been made into a BBC 1 TV series. It’s available on YouTube.
Have you read Ann Cleeves? Which books would you recommend?
22 thoughts on “Raven Black by Ann Cleeves (2006) The Shetland Series 1”
I enjoy BBC adaptations so I will check this out. That said, I am glad you pointed out that the characterization is the stronger part of the novel rather than the suspense. I believe different readers look for different things in a novel and this would really help them to decide whether to pick the book up
Thank you Susan. I hope you’ll like the series should you watch it.
Of course, it’s possible others would find this more suspenseful than I did. I just didn’t think that was the book’s most appealing feature.
Ann Cleeves is one of my favorite authors. I really enjoyed the titles that I have read in her Shetland series. So much so that I wrote a post about it: https://fictionophile.wordpress.com/2016/12/14/series-to-savour-4-ann-cleeves-shetland-mysteries/
Great. Thank you for the link. I’ll definitely have a look. I found it very atmopsheric and loved the characters.
I haven’t read Ann Cleeves but I know the name. I watched some of the Shetland series and found it ok not great.
I started watching a bit and must say – the book was way better. I think it’s really solid writing. No weird twists or gimmicky stuff like there’s so much of.
I haven’t read any of her books, but I have enjoyed watching some of the Shetland series on TV (thankfully it’s not too grisly). Its strengths seem to be the characterisation (Perez especially) and the sense of place – much like the book by the sound of things. As you say towards the end of your review, Perez is at a stage of his life where there’s plenty of scope for character development – at least that’s the sense I get from the adaptation.
No, it’s not grisly, which is a relief. The books are better than the adaptation, but I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it. I might give it another try.
I’m a fan of Douglas Henshall, so I’m sure his presence has something to do with it. 🙂
🙂 Coming from the novel though, he’s not a terribly good choice as Perez should look at least a bit Spanish.
Great review Caroline. I like when old events or old crimes are brought into mysteries. I also agree that an interesting detective really adds like to a long series of books.
Thanks, Brian. I agre about the old crimes. It’s quite often than old crimes play into news ones, which gives the books more depth and allows the author to look into the past of a place and things.
I really like Perez (who is nothing like the TV depiction of him) and the series does get better as it goes on. As you say, I read it for the sense of place and the characters.
Perez might be one of my favourite detectives and for him alone I’d like to go on reading. I’m glad to hear you like the series. It’s definitely an endorsement.
I only watched the beginning of one episode and the trailer and was disappointed in the charcater of Perez.
I can certainly see where one’s expectations would be different if you knew the series and I have always wondered about the fact that he didn’t seem to physically match the ethnicity of his last name. However, without having read the books, I really enjoy the sense of community that comes across in the series, the secondary characters that recur, the quiet determination to resolve messy situations and the hauntingly beautiful scenery. I’m sorry to be all caught up in watching and perhaps she needs to write more books so they can film more?
Of course, the scenery, yes, that would be a reason to watch it. You can sense in the books how beautiful it is but that’s not the same.
I’ll read a few more before I’ll watch but I think I’ll end up watching it anyway.
I’m not sure why they didn’t choose a more Spanish looking actor.
I’ve enjoyed the tv adaptation (being a Douglas Henshall fan helps). I can well believe the books are better – they generally are aren’t they? Still, I think I now know the plots of half a dozen or so of them so at this point I suspect it’s a bit late.
It does sound like it may help with the tv series not to have read the books given how central Perez is to each and apparently how different.
They mostly are better. I’m not familiar with Henshall and so, seeing how different he was from the Perez in the book put me off a bit but I guess, given time, I might enjoy the adaptation anyway. It seems they didn’t satrt with the first for TV, Raven Black seems to be the second. Not sure why. It sounds like it is a bit late to start reading them now. I’ll read the next one, as it seems the series will get better.
Have not read anything by Cleeves, but this sounds like something I’d like. Glad to hear the writing is good and not grisly.
It’s solid crime writing. No gimmicks, no gore. I’ll definitely read more of her. I’d love to know what you think of her.
Hi Caroline! I am just like you, I have owned this book for ages and ages and think often about reading it (as you say it has come recommended), but then for some reason never quite reach for it. So even though you liked it, but maybe were not quite blown away, after reading your thoughts on it, I actually want to read it more now than before! I think lately as much as I am in the mood for crime novels or suspense, I want stories that are not (for one thing, cookie cutter), but also have more weight in the characterization department–I want characters who are more developed rather than necessarily a fast moving plot. For me, those types of stories just feel a little too thin at the moment. Now I wonder where my own copy is! Perez sounds a most appealing character and one I think I can relate to well these days!
Hi Danielle. I’m pretty confident you’ll like this and Perez is a wonderful character. The reader really cares for him and there are sides one can easily identify with. I wasn’t blown away but really liked it and can sense the series will get better. Newer series all seem to start with a bang, this was a slower introduction. I’d love to hear what you think of it.