Red Bones by Ann Cleeves

The book cover is blue, with a dark sky and the full moon over the shoreline in Shetland.  An isolated white building is in the distance and the moonlight stretches over the water from the foreground to the horizon.

Review by Julie F.

Red Bones, the third book in the Shetland series of mysteries by Ann Cleeves, delves into the family of Sandy Wilson, the young policeman who works for main series character Jimmy Perez. Sandy’s family lives on one of the outlying Shetland islands, Whalsay, in a small community where an archaeologist has recently unearthed bones that may or may not be “ancient history.” When tragedy ensues, Detective Inspector Perez investigates how Sandy’s extended family, as well as the students and professor involved with the dig, might be culpable. Not just a family drama, the story also recounts how an isolated community of individuals gossips, lies, and hides secrets, even from those they love the most.

The novel is also an interesting exploration of Sandy’s character. Early in the book, Perez is, “surprised that Sandy had shown so much initiative, wondered if he should congratulate him or if that would just be patronizing. In the office Sandy was always considered a bit of a joke. Perez had shared the low opinion at times” (35). Based on that description and his actions in the first two books in the series, Sandy could easily develop into a stock plodding detective, uninspired and demonstrating little intelligence or motivation. Instead, we see Perez give him challenges and progressively more difficult assignments throughout the case. He struggles with hard questions, matures, and takes on more responsibility, which is a testimony to Ann Cleeves’ ability to keep her characters multi-dimensional.

One of the things I love most about these books is how the characters and their relationships to one another grow throughout the series. Although the book furthers Perez’s personal story, including his budding relationship with artist Fran Hunter and her daughter Cassie, it is equally Sandy’s story, and that of the generations on the island who share a collective past both desperate and painful.

I listened to the audiobook on CloudLibrary as I read along, and narrator Gordon Griffin, an actor and dialogue coach, conveyed Cleeves’ beautiful, remote setting with dramatic (but never overblown) narration in an authentic accent.

I highly recommend the first two Shetland books, Raven Black and White Nights. If you enjoy the work of Ann Cleeves, look for her DI Vera Stanhope series (the first one is The Crow Trap, available as an ebook) as well as her newest series, Two Rivers, set in Devon, England and featuring detective Matthew Venn. The first book, The Long Call, is also available in ebook and eaudiobook from Libby/OverDrive. And if you enjoy the novels, both Shetland and Vera are available in DVD format at HCLS in television series produced by the BBC and ITV, respectively.

Ann Cleeves is a 2017 winner of the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association, the highest honor in British crime writing. She also won the Agatha Award in the Best Contemporary Novel category for The Long Call. Visit her website to learn more about this remarkable author.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she facilitates two book discussion groups – Spies, Lies, and Alibis and Bas Bleu.

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