Reading Raven Black is like taking a ride in a car that's speeding up and hitting hairpin turns at the end before it comes to a 180-degree spinning halt.
British author Ann Cleeves has been writing for a long time. American audiences first met her through her George and Molly Palmer-Jones, bird-watching mystery series. Since then, Cleeves has journeyed into darker waters with tougher themes and main characters. We in the U.S. have not seen most of her books, but St. Martin's Press has brought her latest endeavor to our shores.
Jimmy Perez is a police inspector in a very moody and atmospheric version of the Shetland Islands. Although Cleeves has released four books in this series, the U.S. has only seen three of them. Raven Black is the first book, and it won the 2006 Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award, a prestigious British award for crime fiction.
Jimmy has been called in to solve the murder of a teenage girl found strangled in the woods. The villagers are convinced that Magnus Tait, a mentally impaired old man who lives nearby, is responsible. Years ago he was arrested for the murder of a young girl but got off because no conclusive evidence could be found. Jimmy and Roy Taylor, the lead investigator of an off-island contingent of policemen, are reluctant to just assume Magnus is guilty, especially given the lack of conclusive evidence pointing in his direction, and begin to interview the girl's family, friends, and neighbors.
As the ravens relentlessly circle a carcass, so do the villagers circle tighter and tighter around Magnus, forcing Jimmy and Roy to press themselves harder to either condemn or acquit him. Then more information teasingly surfaces about what Catherine, the victim, had been doing prior to her death. And there may also be a connection to the death of the young girl years ago. Some of that points towards Magnus, but there are other suspects and suspicious circumstances a-plenty, and Cleeves does a great job presenting a small community of eccentric characters in crisis.