Title: Red Bones
Author: Ann Cleeves
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, 2009
Hardcover, 400 pages
Genre: Police Procedural, #3 in the Shetland Island Quartet
Source: purchased at The Poisoned Pen.
First Line: Anna opened her eyes and saw a pair of hands, streaked and shiny with blood.
Inspector Jimmy Perez is on Whalsay Island to investigate the shooting death of the grandmother of one of his officers, Sandy Wilson. Most folks seem to think Sandy's cousin Ronald accidentally shot the old woman, but Perez has his doubts. The woman's land is the site of an archaeological dig led by Hattie James, a Ph.D. student, who has already turned up a skeleton whose age is being analyzed. Then a second body turns up at the dig, and even though the death appears to be a suicide, Perez has his doubts about that as well. It's up to him and Sandy Wilson to piece everything together before any more bodies turn up.
Quite simply, I love these books. They are so very evocative of place, and the characterizations are so layered and brilliant that the well-crafted plots seem like bonuses instead of something to be expected.
Perez thinks before he speaks, and he chooses his words with care. He also wins the award as the greatest "people person" cop I know. He prefers to sit with everyone he interviews, asking seemingly unrelated questions because he genuinely wants to get to know them better. He earned points in this book because, although most people (including Perez) had almost written the bumbling Sandy Wilson off as a lost cause, Perez showed patience and worked with the young man, giving him important tasks to see how well he could handle them. I don't think that's standard operating procedure during a murder investigation for most coppers!
Another character in this book struck a chord with me: the young archaeology grad student, Hattie James. She showed true talent in her chosen vocation, and the longer she stayed in the Shetland Islands, the more attached she became to the place:
Hattie looked beyond the disturbance to the horizon. It was the most exposed archaeological site she'd ever worked. Shetland was all sky and wind. There were no trees here to provide shelter.
I love this place, she thought suddenly. I love it more than anywhere else in the world. I want to spend the rest of my life here.
In this scene (and others), Hattie strongly reminded me of another young woman, Eleanor Vance, who became very attached to a house... Hill House.
As Perez carefully makes his way through the cast of possible suspects, the reader meets other characters who have come to live there and their reactions to the land, the weather, and the lack of privacy amongst the small population of inhabitants. Old grievances are laid bare as well as a bit of World War II history, the Shetland Bus. I was so wrapped up in my enjoyment of the book that when answers began being revealed at the end, one or two came as shocks because I'd forgotten that I should be gathering clues.
The books in the Shetland Island Quartet could all be read as standalones, but why deny yourself reading any of these wonderful books? The series begins with Raven Black and is followed by White Nights, Red Bones, and the soon-to-be published Blue Lightning. They're fantastic reading, and I sincerely hope you won't miss a single page.
As for me, I'm quite ready for Blue Lightning!