“Red Bones” by Ann Cleeves is one of a series of crime novels set on the Shetlands – highly recommended

Red Bones by Ann Cleeves is the third in her series of crime novels set in the Shetland Isles and featuring her detective main character Jimmy Perez. I have read all of these books and am slowly rereading them – I seem to be getting even more enjoyment from them the second time around. There is, apparently, a TV series based on these books – I haven’t seen it so all my comments relate to the novels.

This book features one of the smaller islands where Jimmy’s assistant Sandy Wilson has been born and brought up. It is Sandy who raises the alarm to Jimmy when he finds his grandmother shot dead. Mima, the grandmother, has allowed an archaeological dig to explore her land and it is in their trench that she is found – a trench that lately has revealed some old bones.

Initially it looks like Mima has been accidently shot by Sandy’s cousin when he has been in search of rabbits but Jimmy thinks there may be more to it than that – he is proved accurate when the body of one of the archaeologists is found with her wrists slashed. Jimmy and Sandy have to manoeuvre their way through family loyalties and old tensions in order to find the solution to their mystery.

Because the book is set in a very focussed locality the author can show us some of the tensions that are present in island life in a few people. There are those who have been involved in the fishing industry and have invested in large trawlers who are very rich and those who croft who are not. There are those who have been part of this way of life for generations and those who have married into it and struggle to find their place. There are those who love to live in an isolated community and those who hate it. There are those for whom the history of the islands and the traditions are important and those who wish to exploit them. Some of the characters have mental health issues, some are jealous, some are lonely, some are hiding deep secrets and some are prepared to murder.

This is an excellent series because the author opens to the reader a landscape and a way of life which is different for most of us. She is clear about the good things and the less good things about living on the Shetland Islands but it is obvious that she loves the place and writes about it with real affection. You can also see that she loves the characters that she has created and she makes them rounded people with the capacity to learn but also to make mistakes.

I highly recommend this series and I think that if you read it that you will find that this is one of the best books. It has a tightly ordered plot and the revelation and ending of the book is very satisfying. I also enjoyed the way that the author has developed Sandy into a real person and not just a “sidekick” – his mother is a great creation and Mima is very much not the stereotypical grandmother of fiction.

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