Uphellyaa should be fun, not murderous
Red Bones - Ann Cleeves
Member Name: sunmeilan
Red Bones - Ann Cleeves
Advantages: Excellent story, wonderful setting
Disadvantages: Minor descriptive issues
This is the first book in the 'Shetland Quartet' by Ann Cleeves, featuring Jimmy Perez who, despite his name, was born and bred on Fairisle. Although he is not the most exciting of fictional detectives, the author does make some effort to give him a real personality. Originally from Fairisle, his mother now wants him to return and run a croft and, following his divorce from Sarah a few years before, Perez is seriously considering this. His job is usually fairly routine, so Catherine Ross' murder is a real challenge for him - probably something he needed for his own peace of mind. It's a great start to a character, who is clearly going to grow throughout the course of the quartet and, along with the other characters in the book, he provides a real reason to keep reading.
There are a number of other characters in the book who play an important part, none more so than the murdered girl herself. Catherine Ross is not a particularly pleasant girl. She is perhaps too clever for her own good and certainly comes across as patronising and rude to both adults and her contemporaries. Throughout the book, as the story is revealed, the reader is able to really get under her skin and it is partially this that makes the book so readable. There is also much insight into her friend, Sally, who has a strict mother and feels increasingly isolated because of it, and Fran Hunter, who has a young daughter with a local man, from whom she is now divorced. Fran turns detective in the story, but it doesn't feel Miss Marpleish and unrealistic - instead it is very natural given the circumstances - a community where people do get together and talk about their fears and suspicions.
The setting, in Shetland, is well described in that the relationship between the local people feels very accurate. Life is a lot more old-fashioned than it is in most other places and anyone who doesn't fit in with the ideals of the islanders is frowned upon. However, the author could have gone to a little more effort to describe the surroundings. There is very little visual description of the islands and it seems like a wasted opportunity. There is some effort at the beginning of the book when Fran looks at the view around her house with an artist's eye - looking at the misty colours of the hills and sea. There is also a lot of description of the festival of Uphellyaa which takes place in January and is a backdrop to the book. Despite this, I still feel as though more effort could have been put into describing the scenery. It's not a major problem though, especially when the story is so good.
The plot is most definitely a good one. It really is compelling reading, because it is obvious that Magnus Tait could be the murderer, but that there are also a number of other suspects. Then the story of the previous girl who went missing is also woven in. The author has done an excellent job of building up the atmosphere, then leaving the reader in suspense for a few pages, before imparting the next bit of information. This pacing is really well done, because it is difficult to put the book down without wondering what will happen in the next page or two. The ending is almost impossible to work out. I had a number of thoughts on who the real murderer was, but I was completely wrong, and suspect that the majority of people are going to have the same problem. This makes reaching the end of the book just that bit more satisfying. Then there is a great cliffhanger for Perez right at the end of the book that prepares the way for the next book.
The book is very well-written for a work of crime fiction. It isn't overly literary in any way, but the language flows well and creates the right atmosphere for a murder mystery. Generally, it felt as though the book had been well-thought out, from the language used, to the length of the chapters. This is a fairly chunky book and it takes some time to read, but because of the way that the book is cut up, feeding the reader chunks of information before skipping on to something else, it is very easy to read quickly. For the beginning of a quartet, it is certainly very promising and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
My only regret with this book is that I have already read the third book in the series, Red Bones, and so have some idea of what happens to Jimmy Perez in the second book. For any newcomers to the series, I strongly recommend starting with this one. It really sets the scene, introduces the characters (some of whom reappear in the series) and generally whets the appetite. That isn't to say that Red Bones isn't a good book, because it is, but this is one series that would really be beneficial to read them in order. This is an excellent book, one I enjoyed from start to finish, and anyone with an interest in crime fiction and/or life in Shetland will almost certainly find it as enjoyable as I did. Highly recommended.
The book is available from Amazon for £4.04. Published by Pan, it has 320 pages. ISBN-10: 0330512943
Summary: Great crime fiction set in Shetland