Cleeves, Ann. Red Bones.

NY: St. Martin, 2009.

I’ve become a real fan of this author’s police procedural murder mysteries set in the Shetland Islands, out in the North Atlantic between Scotland and Norway. Even with the Internet, and with shopping and vacation trips to the mainland paid for by oil money, it’s still a very isolated place to live. In many ways, this means everyone knows everyone else’s business, especially at the local neighborhood level, where nearly all the families are each other’s cousins. But it also means family secrets are kept even tighter than they would be in London or Edinburgh.

Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, a native of Fair Isle — which is remote even for the Shetlands — is the head cop with only a small team to assist him. The youngest of those is Sandy Wilson, who often doesn’t think things through and makes lots of mistakes, but he’s not a bad kid, so Perez puts up with him and tries to be patient while he grows up. And while Sandy is taking a few days off to visit his folks on Whalsay, one of the small islands near the main island, he also goes to see his grandmother, the aged and slightly scandalous Mima. And Mima is playing host to two archaeology students excavating a site practically in her front yard. And then Sandy discovers Mima’s body, dead of a shotgun blast. His cousin, Ronald, who had been drinking, was out shooting rabbits that night and it all looks like a tragic accident. But then one of the students is also found, an apparent suicide. Add to that the bones discovered in the excavation, which aren’t necessarily that old, and Perez doesn’t like the odds on coincidence.

Cleeve is very good at delineating her characters and examining what makes them tick. “It always amazed Sandy how much Perez could pack into a small space of time. If you met him you’d think the inspector was kind of slow. It was his way of thinking before he spoke so you knew that when the words came out they were just the ones he’d intended. But Perez wasn’t slow at all. There was a sort of magic in his asking the right questions the first time, picking up the clues in a situation, knowing when it was time to move on.” Of course, Fran, his girlfriend, says he’s just nosy and enjoys gossip. That tells you almost everything you need to know about him, doesn’t it? If you value thoughtful, sensitive writing as well as a complex and fascinating plot, I strongly recommend this series.


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