Sunday, June 10, 2007
I just finished Ann Cleeves' award-winning crime novel, Raven Black, and I don't know if I have words to describe it. I feel just as I did when I read Louise Penny's Still Life. I've discovered a wonderful writer, one whose description of a little-known area brings its world to life. She writes wonderful descriptions, and creates fascinating people.
Raven Black is set in the isolated Shetland Islands, and introduces Inspector Jimmy Perez, a native of a small island there. It's small town lonely in the islands, where everyone knows each other's business and secrets, and people can be very cruel. When Catherine Ross, a sixteen-year-old, was found strangled right after New Year's, attention immediately focused on Magnus Tait, a man who was a little slow, and the primary suspect eight years earlier when a young girl disappeared. The villagers and the police would have been ready to pin the latest murder on Magnus, but Perez and Inspector Roy Taylor had their doubts. As Perez talks to the villagers, local secrets are exposed.
Cleeves won the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for the Best Crime Novel of 2006. What does she do that's so special? She creates Jimmy Perez, a Shetlander with a wild, foreign look. She reveals his background, as the descendant of a mythical Spaniard cast onto the island, who married into the Shetland life. Jimmy's marriage fell apart falling his wife's miscarriage of the son that would have carried on the Perez line. He's a romantic, lonely man who is easy for people to talk to, possibly because he was once an outsider and a victim himself. Perez is the perfect detective for a small community where everyone's lives and secrets are interwoven.
In Black Raven, Cleeves creates an atmosphere perfect for crime. It's an isolated life in the Shetlands, a cold world in January. Everyone seems lonely, preoccupied with their own attempt to survive. In that atmosphere, it's easier to accept that an old man would be the killer of young girls, than there is another killer in their midst.
Black Raven reminds me of Louise Penny's Armand Gamache books, set in Three Pines in Quebec, Still Life and A Fatal Grace. It also brings to mind the isolated crimes of Val McDermid's A Place of Execution. That's comparing Cleeves' work to other ones that use atmosphere and isolation to great advantage.
According to her website, Cleeves' second book in the Shetland quartet to feature Jimmy Perez will be out in England in 2008, with the title of White Nights. She never intended to write a series, but the success of Black Raven encouraged one. Let's hope that St. Martin's Minotaur will pick it up in this country. They have a superb author on their hands.
Ann Cleeves' website is www.anncleeves.com
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2006. ISBN 978-0312359669 (hardcover), 384p.