Cleeves, Ann. Raven Black.

NY: St. Martin, 2006.

I happened to see the first episode of BBC Scotland’s “Shetland” on TV recently and was taken with the setting — the Shetland Islands, in the subarctic Atlantic northeast of Scotland. The story and the characters got my attention, in addition to the Islands themselves, so I picked up this first volume in the series of books on which the drama was based.

It’s quite good, in a laconic semi-Scandinavian sort of way. It’s an interesting area, with an ancient history, several thousand archaeological sites, and a good income in recent years as a result of the North Sea oil boom.

Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez (an ancestral link, possibly mythical, to the Spanish Armada accounts for his name and Mediterranean features) is the senior police officer on the islands, so he’s the one called to the scene when a teenage girl, Catherine Ross, is found strangled in the snow at the edge of town. Jimmy is from Fair Isle, which is remote even by Shetland standards, and he was trained in Aberdeen, so there’s a certain distance between him and the residents of the largest island and its only town. The victim was a recent incomer, an independent and artistic sort, and daughter of one of the high school teachers. Her best friend, Sally, is another teacher’s kid, who has been bullied and set apart most of her life and her association with Catherine has opened up new horizons for her.

The principal suspect, almost automatically, is the elderly Magnus Tate, who has certain mental limitations. He lives directly across from where the body was found and he was also the favorite choice when a much younger girl went missing eight years before. The locals aren’t interested in pursuing further evidence, they’ve already made up their minds, but Perez is a cop and takes his job seriously. He’s required to call in a homicide team from the mainland, which makes him somewhat protective of his turf, but he gets along reasonably well with the interloping DI. The investigation is straight police procedural in tone, with additional suspects coming into view and sinking out of sight again, at least for awhile. I have to say, I didn’t figure out whodunit until the last chapter, but the evidence is there all along, if you keep your eyes open. I’ll be settling in with the five following novels.

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