It is a cold January morning, and Shetland lies buried beneath a deep layer of snow. Trudging home, Fran Hunter's eye is drawn to a splash of colour on the frozen ground, ravens circling above. It is the strangled body of her teenage neighbour, Catherine Ross. As Fran opens her mouth to scream, the ravens continue their deadly dance.
The locals on the quiet island stubbornly focus their gaze on one man - loner and simpleton Magnus Tait. But when detective Jimmy Perez and his colleagues from the mainland insist on opening out the investigation, a veil of suspicion and fear is thrown over the entire community.
For the first time in years, Catherine's neighbours nervously lock their doors, whilst a killer lives on in their midst.
Raven Black was the first winner of the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for the best crime novel of the year. The judges praised Raven Black for its "superb sense of place." They called it "a depiction of an enclosed community with modern and entrenched values constantly competing, [and] a thrilling read."
Read more about the award.
Raven Black was shortlisted for the Swedish Martin Beck Award 2007 for best translated fiction; it has been shortlisted for the 2017 Icepick Award for the best translated crime fiction in Iceland this year.
Set in the remote Scottish Shetland Islands, Cleeves's taut, atmospheric thriller, the first in a new series, will keep readers guessing until the last page. Det. Insp. Jimmy Perez investigates the murder of teenage Catherine Ross, found strangled on a snowy hillside shortly after New Year's. While the police and citizens alike are quick to lay the blame on local eccentric Magnus Tait, who was not only the last person to see Catherine alive but also the prime suspect in the disappearance eight years earlier of another girl, Perez has his doubts. He's soon drawn into an intricate web of lies as he unearths the long-buried secrets of everyone from a roguish playboy to Catherine's only school friend. Cleeves, winner of the CWA's Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award (formerly the Gold Dagger), masterfully paints Perez as an empathetic hero and sprinkles the story with a lively cast of supporting characters who help bring the Shetlands alive. When the shocking identity of the murderer is revealed, readers will be as chilled as the harsh winds that batter the isolated islands."
Publishers' Weekly (starred review)
© 1997-2005 Reed Business Information
"Wonderful book, wonderful writer."
In the US
In the US, Raven Black is published by St. Martin's Minotaur.
In the UK
In the UK, Raven Black is published by Pan MacMillan:
- Order the hardback edition,
- order the paperback:
- Raven Black is available as an audiobook from the publisher, ISIS Soundings, read by Gordon Griffin, on cassette (ISBN: 1-84559-318-9) or audio CD (ISBN: 1-84559-456-8)
- or in the Ulverscroft large print edition
- It is also available in a Kindle eBook edition
Iain Finlay MacLeod's adaptation of Raven Black for BBC Radio 4's Saturday Play was first broadcast on Saturday, 23rd January 2010. The Radio Times previewed it as a 'pick of the day' in the radio section, and described it as "an exquisitely original story" and "an absolute must for crime drama fans".
A two-part adaptation was also made for German radio by SWR 2 Krimi (Südwestrundfunk)).
Find the locations described in Raven Black on a map of Shetland.
Read what Ann has to say about "creating a text" - and about the origins of Raven Black - in John Baker's Blog.
What the critics said
"absolute sheer brilliance contained in 376 pages of absorbing suspenseful entertainment."
"Ann Cleeves won the Duncan Lawrie Gold Dagger for Raven Black and rightly so. It's in the tradition of the small community murder mystery, but done with a depth that infuses this genre with new realism. A young girl is murdered in the Shetlands and an elderly recluse stands accused, as the lives of a complex society become intertwined to a fascinating effect.
"Her characterisation is worthy of the best writers in the field, and she brilliantly evokes the dark psychopathology lying beneath the placid setting. Rarely has the sense of place been so evocatively conveyed in a crime novel."
"It is the relationships at the novel's heart that make it work so well... Cleeves takes ingredients that have been familiar to generations of crime readers but uses them in a way that makes them fresh and engaging."
"Cleeves offers up a dark, brutal, suspenseful page-turner that will keep even seasoned mystery buffs guessing right up to the end."
© American Library Association
"On these bare bones, Cleeves drapes moody descriptions of the harsh climate conditions on "bare wastes of heather moorland," stark observations on the revolting instincts of birds of prey and suggestive profiles of characters who have lived too long in these lonely parts. Never mind the murders; her study of a forgotten soul waiting for someone to come to his door and wish him a happy new year is enough to freeze the blood."
New York Times
"Don't miss this standout first of a promised Shetland Quartet, both for its setting and top-notch storytelling."
Jane Dickinson, Rocky Mountain News
"Have you ever read a new-to-you author and wondered what on earth took you so long to discover them? Raven Black is Ann Cleeves nineteenth novel and I'm wondering why I wasn't aware of her before now."
Sunnie Gill, Eurocrime
"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."
Lesa Holstine, Lesa's Book Critiques
"I must say that I read very few whodunits these days, but Ann Cleeves is one of those writers who can keep me turning the pages until the final revelation.
"And that is exactly what happened with Raven Black, and I was gripped as much by the landscape and climate of Shetland as I was by the characters living in fear and suspicion along its coastline."
John Baker, John Baker's Blog
"The village mystery has a long pedigree, but it fell into disrepute when practitioners lost touch with realism and took all their characters from stock. With Raven Black, Ann Cleeves shows how it can be brought up to date.
"... There is nothing startling about the plot, but it is beautifully constructed. Each character's discoveries and fears build towards the climax they all experience, which means there is no need for laboured introspection or footprint-chasing. The people involved have back stories that work, and there is a warmth between them that makes an effective contrast with the wind and the harshness of the landscape.
"Cleeves writes with an easy directness that brings alive the tensions in a place where everyone knows everyone else and nothing can be forgotten... With the bare but beautiful landscape, painful family relationships as well as good ones, and the emotional torture of the simple-minded Magnus, Raven Black is a lively and surprising addition to a genre that once seemed moribund."
Natasha Cooper, Times Literary Supplement
"Ann Cleeves has written a lot of crime novels and collected many admirers without making the kind of headlines that some less skilful authors have achieved. Raven Black shows what a fine writer she is when on top form... The revelation of the murderer's identity comes as a surprise, but then seems obvious - a clever piece of characterisation and a satisfying end to an accomplished and thoughtful book."
Susanna Yager, Sunday Telegraph
"Cleeves is a very good writer - strong on atmosphere, plot and people."
Marcel Berlins, The Times
"Cleeves creates a convincing world of hostility against outsiders, of genuine ancient feuds but pseudo-history for the tourists, of small snobberies and major jealousies. Raven Black breaks the conventional mould of British crime-writing, while retaining the traditional virtues of strong narrative and careful plotting"
Jane Jakeman, Independent
(Jane Jakeman also placed Raven Black on her Christmas list of "books of the year".)
"The book is crammed with excellent incidental details of Shetland culture, and Cleeves vividly evokes the claustrophobic nature of life in a small, isolated community where everyone knows everyone else and secrets are common currency. Raven Black is as much about the intricate pattern of relationships in such a community as it is a conventional whodunit and, with a cast of well-drawn and convincing characters and an unexpected conclusion, it is the perfect novel to while away the long winter evenings by the fire."
Pete Whittaker, Tribune