Maddy's Reviews > Raven Black

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
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May 18, 10

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bookshelves: 2007-reads
Read in February, 2007

RATING: 2.5 quills

The Shetland Islands are located in a remote area of the UK. Shetland is the kind of place where people spend their whole lives. There's the occasional newcomer; but on the whole, the inhabitants have lived there for generations. The local schoolteacher is now teaching the children of her former pupils. There is even the stereotypical "village idiot" character, Magnus Tait, who is mentally challenged and vaguely threatening. The idyllic nature of the place has only been shattered once, eight years earlier when a young girl named Catriona Bruce disappeared. She has never been found. At the time, Tait was arrested for her murder; but nothing was ever proved.

Fast forward to the present. It's New Year's Eve, and Magnus is hoping that someone will drop by to visit. His wish comes true when two teenaged girls, Sally Henry and Catherine Ross, pop in on their way home from a party. He is quite taken with Catherine, who has a striking beauty and a maturity beyond her years. But the next day, Catherine is found strangled in a field near Magnus's cottage. And once again, he is the prime suspect.

The lead investigator is an inspector named Jimmy Perez, who is originally from Fair Isle. He's a very empathetic individual and one of the more appealing characters in the book. The closed-in community means that the investigation is somewhat limited. Although everyone believes that Magnus is the perpetrator, Jimmy is determined to check out every possible suspect, and there are many. Catherine, despite her appealing exterior, played people for her own purposes, and that meant that she wasn't necessarily the sweet innocent one assumed. As the case continued, another child disappears.

The book was so full of red herrings that they were swimming into one another and spawning. Every male character that was not a police official acted very suspiciously and could conceivably have murdered Catherine. I began to feel clobbered by the inferences she was suggesting, and it diminished my reading enjoyment. Whenever Magnus Tait was the focal point of a scene, the narrative was heavily laden with implications about something horrible he had done in the past and his disturbing thoughts about the murder victims. Frankly, I felt that Cleeves was manipulating the reader with this approach, and I found it distasteful.

Cleeves did a great job of depicting the setting and integrating the exterior landscape into the psychological landscape of the characters. The majority of the characters are well drawn, each with their own tics and issues. That being said, I had a hard time coming to terms with the motivations for the crimes that were revealed in the denouement.

Raven Black won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for crime fiction. I am certain that I am in a very small minority of readers who do not like this book. Fans who enjoy the traditional or locked-room kind of mystery will likely enjoy this book very much.


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