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Red Bones by Ann Cleeves

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Red Bones by Ann Cleeves

Red Bones is the third installment in the Shetland Quartet by Ann Cleeves. But with the success that this series has brought her, I think she may have to keep her detective, Jimmy Perez, alive and somehow let him continue in a new series, after the fourth, and last, in this series, Blue Lightning, is published this spring.

Ann Cleeves has been writing mystery novels for many years but it was not until the publication of Raven Black, the first in the Shetland Quartet, that she found international success.

In the Shetlands with her husband, a birdwatcher, she witnessed a scene that began it all.

“It was between Christmas and New Year, when it's dark most of the day. Finally, the sun came up. It had snowed, then frozen on top, and there was ice on the shore. We saw three ravens, black against the snow. It was such a striking image I thought, ‘If there were blood as well, it would be like a fairy story, Snow White with her blood-red lips and all that.'

“I asked Tim, ‘If there were a dead body, would they feed off that?' And he said. ‘Of course,' so I had that first scene, and I had to start.”

She then questioned a retired police sergeant from the islands. "He was lovely. I asked him, would the local cops deal with it and he said, 'No, no, you'd bring a team in from Inverness.' And I thought immediately, that's great. You'd have a local cop here who's done nothing much apart from drunk driving and brawls in bars and there's a murder and they go and bring in someone above him. There's tension immediately." She then created Jimmy Perez.

In the novel, Red Bones, the third in the series we meet detective Jimmy Perez again, alone while his partner Fran and her daughter, Cassie, are away in London for a holiday. Jimmy has plenty to keep him occupied however, with the murder – or accidental shooting – of a woman on the little island of Walsay. The victim, Mima, was an independent widow, known to speak her mind and cared little for convention. The land around her croft, Setter, is the site of an archaeological dig and she has come to have a particular affection for Hattie, a young female archeologist. Hattie is a rather intense – obsessive – and fragile young woman who seems to have found her purpose on Walsay. For her, this could be an important dig both professionally and personally, as it’s success may give her the confidence and validation that she craves.

Walsay is a remote and insular community – if everyone is not actually related by blood, they are certainly connected by the past. And it is the past that is dug up along with the bones that Hattie discovers at Setter.

"There's another thing I've always loved about Shetland," says Ann Cleeves. "The gossip here is better than anywhere else in Britain. People get so bored, they make dramas to entertain themselves, and gossip is how you do that. Wherever you go, people will tell you what's going on in the croft next door or what has happened last week or who was coming in on the boat or selling beasts to the abattoir – all that. And gossip is what writers do, telling tales about people."

And gossip can be both untrue and dangerous as Perez discovers on Walsay.

Many years earlier, during World War II, there was a sort of underground railway by sea between Norway and Scotland. “The Shetland Bus, comprising a fleet of small fishing cutters, rescued refugees from the Nazis and provided the Norwegian Resistance with secret agents, instructors and weapons for clandestine sabotage and raids.” It is a fascinating story and the history provides the back story to what is happening now on Walsay.

Perez begins to wonder if there is something in the past that makes this accidental shooting, that just doesn’t sit right with him, a murder. Well, I’m not going to tell you.

But I will reveal that when Fran returns from her holiday, she and Jimmy decide it is time she met his parents. In Blue Lightning, to be published this spring, Fran will brave the autumn storms to visit Fair Isle with Jimmy Perez, to meet his parents – and I just bet there will be a murder while they are there.

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