Catherine Ross moved to the Shetland Isles shortly after her mother’s death. Worldly wise and aloof, and let roam freely by her grief stricken father, she observes the islanders through the lens of her camera. On New Year’s Eve she travels home with a local girl her own age, Sally Henry, a shy, self-conscious girl who has never quite fitted in at school. On a dare they stop at old Magnus Tait’s cottage. A bachelor crofter, Tait, a simple man with learning difficulties, has been ostracized by the local community after the disappearance of a small child several years before. The following night, Catherine Ross disappears, her body discovered the morning after in the snow in the field opposite to Tait’s cottage by another blow-in, artist Fran Hunter. Inspector Jimmy Perez starts a murder investigation, soon joined by a team flown-in from Aberdeen. The locals are convinced of Tait’s guilt, but Perez has an open mind in the absence of any compelling forensic evidence. Piecing together the life of Catherine Ross though is no simple matter as she has managed to rile a number of people all of whom have something to hide.
Raven Black is compelling read. The plotting is strong and the prose nicely structured. Rather than follow the story from a single perspective, Cleeves elects to produce a multi-stranded narrative. The result is a multi-layered and textured story and a sense of being immersed in a community. Cleeves is particularly good at penning her characters and evoking a sense of place. The police procedural elements are realistic without the technical aspects being dwelled upon and the social relations between the cast members are believable. For a long time this was a 5 star read. I did, however, feel slightly let down by the end. On reflection, I think my issue was that the motivation of the killer was not really fully explained, nor why the victim did not fight back. Otherwise, this was a very fine read and I’m looking forward to tucking into the next book in Cleeves’ Shetland series.