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Raven Black

Ann Cleeves

Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award winner Ann Cleeves is the author of both the Shetland Quartet and Vera Stanhope series of atmoshpheric, psychological crime books. Raven Black is the first of the Shetland Quartet novels.

Raven Black begins on New Year’s Eve with a lonely outcast named Magnus Tait, who stays home waiting for visitors who never come. But the next morning the body of a murdered teenage girl is discovered nearby, and suspicion falls on Magnus. Inspector Jimmy Perez enters an investigative maze that leads deeper into the past of the Shetland Islands than anyone wants to go.

Raven Black was shortlisted for the Martin Beck award for best translated crime novel in Sweden.


Tait was probably the last person to see Catherine Ross alive. Besides, he is quite possibly connected to the disappearance of another young girl Catriona Bruce several years earlier. So Perez and his team are particularly interested in him. And yet there is no physical evidence that connects Tait with Catherine Ross’ death and Tait claims that he is innocent.As it turns out, Tait is not the only suspect in this murder. For one thing, Catherine Ross didn’t care very much what people thought of her. In a way that made her a very strong character, but it also made her vulnerable. Then it comes out that she was making a film about Shetland and its people as a part of a school project. Perez and the team try to locate the film and any notes Catherine might have made about it but the film has disappeared and so have Catherine’s notes about it. The files have even been deleted from her computer and that’s not something that Magnus Tait would likely have done.

Perez begins to trace Catherine’s last days and weeks to find out who would have a strong interest in keeping Catherine’s film from being made public. In the process he uncovers several things that some of the locals do not want made public. That’s when Fran Hunter discovers the long-hidden body of Catriona Bruce. Now Perez has to find out whether those two deaths are connected. If they are, did Magnus Tait commit both murders?

One of the strongest elements in this novel is the Shetland context. It’s a very small and close-knit community – even claustrophobic. Everyone knows everyone and most of the people in the community are related in some way or another. For example, Fran Hunter’s ex-husband Duncan is having a relationship with Celia Isbister, whose son Robert develops a relationship with Sally Henry. There are many other examples of this kind of intertwining throughout the novel and that network of relationships plays a role in the investigation.We also see the Shetland physical context in the novel, and there’s a strong taste of the Shetland culture too. For instance this novel takes place just before the annual Shetland celebration of Up Helly Aa and there is plenty of discussion about the holiday.Another important element in this novel is the effect of sudden death on those left behind. Catherine Ross’ father Euan is truly devastated by his daughter’s murder and without being maudlin Cleeves makes it very clear just what a loss he feels.

Because Shetland is close-knit there’s a ‘ripple’ effect of both deaths on all the residents really. Everyone knew both girls and their deaths have affected the entire community.

Raven Black is an absorbing psychological thriller that takes place against a unique backdrop. It features a cop who’s grown up in the Shetlands and knows the culture well, and a fascinating look at the way networks of relationships work in small communities.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

About Ann Cleeves:

Ann is the author of the books behind ITV's VERA, now in its third series, and the BBC's SHETLAND.

The DI Vera Stanhope series of books is set in Northumberland and features the well loved detective along with her partner Joe Ashworth. Ann's Shetland series bring us DI Jimmy Perez, investigating in the mysterious, dark, and beautiful Shetland Islands...Ann grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. Her father was a village school teacher. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs - child care officer, women's refuge leader, bird observatory cook, and auxiliary coastguard - before going back to college and training to be a probation officer.

For the National Year of Reading, Ann was made reader-in-residence for three library authorities. It came as a revelation that it was possible to get paid for talking to readers about books! She went on to set up reading groups in prisons as part of the Inside Books project, became Cheltenham Literature Festival's first reader-in-residence and still enjoys working with libraries.Ann Cleeves on stage at the Duncan Lawrie Dagger awards ceremony.



Raven Black begins on New Year’s Eve in the fictional town of Ravenswick, Shetland. Eccentric loner Magnus Tait gets a visit from two teenage girls Sally Henry and Catherine Ross. The two have already been drinking but Tait invites them in to toast the New Year. Afterwards, the girls leave but they’ve made an impression on Tait. A few days later he sees Catherine Ross on a bus and when the bus arrives at Ravenswick, Tait invites her in for a cup of tea. The next morning, local artist Fran Hunter discovers Catherine’s body not far from Tait’s home. The police are called in and Inspector Jimmy Perez begins work on the investigation.

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