Named one of The Guardian's Best Crime Books and Thrillers of 2016.
About the Author
ANN CLEEVES is the multi-million copy bestselling author behind two hit television seriesthe BBC’s Shetland, starring Douglas Henshall, and ITV’s Vera, starring Academy Award Nominee Brenda Blethyn both of which are watched and loved in the US.
Shetland is available in the US on Netflix, Amazon Video, Britbox and PBS, and Vera is available on Hulu, Amazon Video, BritBox and PBS.
The first Shetland novel, Raven Black, won the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel, and Ann was awarded the CWA Diamond Dagger in 2017. She lives in the UK.
Read an Excerpt
By Ann Cleeves
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Ann Cleeves
All rights reserved.
The land slipped while Jimmy Perez was standing beside the grave. The dead man's family had come from Foula originally and they'd carried the coffin on two oars, the way bodies were always brought for burial on that island. The pall-bearers were distant relatives whose forebears had moved south to England, but they must have thought the tradition worth reviving. They'd had time to plan the occasion; Magnus had suffered a stroke and had been in hospital for six weeks before he died. Perez had visited him every Sunday, sat by his bed and talked about the old times. Not the bad old times, when Magnus had been accused of murder, but the more recent good times, when Ravenswick had included him in all their community events. Magnus had come to love the parties and the dances and the Sunday teas. He'd never responded to Perez's chat in the hospital, and his death had come as no surprise.
The coffin was lowered into the grave before the landslide started. Perez looked away from the hole in the ground, as the first earth was scattered on the coffin, and saw the community of Ravenswick stretching away from him. He could see Hillhead, Magnus's croft, right at the top of the bank next to the converted chapel where Perez lived with his stepdaughter Cassie. Nearer to the coast was the kirk and the manse that had been turned into a private home, much grander than the kirk itself. There were the polytunnels at Gilsetter farm and a tiny croft house hidden from the road. He didn't know who stayed there now. The school where Cassie was a pupil was further north, not visible from the cemetery; and hidden by the headland was the Ravenswick Hotel and a smart holiday complex of Scandinavian chalets. This was his home and he couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
The view was filtered by the rain. It seemed it had been raining for months. There'd been talk of cancelling Up Helly Aa two weeks earlier because of the weather, but the fire festival had never been stopped in peacetime and had gone ahead, despite the storm-force winds and the downpour. Now Perez turned his attention back to the minister's words, but at the same time he was remembering Fran, Cassie's mother and the love of his life, who was buried here too.
The landslide made no noise at first. The hill had been heavily grazed all year; sheep had tugged at the grass, disturbing the roots, exposing the black peat beneath. Now, after months of deluge, water had seeped under the surface, loosening the earth, and it was as if the whole hillside was starting to move. The contour of the landscape changed, exposing the rock below. But at this point Perez had turned back to look at the grave where Magnus Tait had just been laid to rest, and he had no warning of what was to come.
The rumbling started when the landslide picked up speed and gathered boulders and the stones from field dykes. When it crossed the main road it missed a car but ploughed into the small croft. Relentless as a river in flood, the mountain of earth moved with a power that flattened the outhouses of the tiny croft house and forced its way through the main building, smashing windows and breaking down the door. Perez heard the noise when it hit the house as a roar, and felt it as a vibration under his feet. He turned at the same time as the other mourners. In Shetland, cemeteries are located by water. Before roads were built, bodies were carried to their graves by boat. The Ravenswick graveyard lay on flat land at the bottom of a valley next to the sea, in the shelter of a headland. Now the steep valley was filling with mud and debris and the landslide was gathering speed as it rolled towards them. The sound was so thunderous that the mourners had warning of its approach. They paused for a second and then scattered, clambering for higher ground. Perez put his arm round an elderly neighbour and almost carried him to safety. The minister, a middle-aged woman, was helped by one of the younger men. They were just in time. They watched as headstones were tipped over like dominoes and the landslide rolled across the pebble beach beyond and into the water. Fran's headstone was simple and had been carved by a friend of hers, a sculptor. It was engraved with the image of a curlew, her favourite bird. Perez watched the tide of mud sweep it away.
* * *
Perez recovered his composure very quickly. There was nothing of Fran left in the grave and he didn't need a stone to remember her by. He turned to check that everyone was well. He wondered what Magnus Tait, who had been a recluse for much of his life, would have made of the drama at his funeral. He thought Magnus would have given a shy grin and chuckled. He'd suggest that they all go back to the community hall for a dram. No point standing out here in the wild, boys. No point at all. Because, except for the minister, the mourners were all men. This was an old-fashioned funeral and women didn't go to the grave. They were a small group. While people had made more of an effort to get to know Magnus towards the end of his life, he had few contacts outside Ravenswick. Now they stood, shaken by the power of the landslide. From a distance they would have looked like giant sheep scattered over the hillside, aimless and lost.
Perez stared back up the bank. He was thinking that if the landslide had started a mile further north, the Ravenswick school would be as devastated as the croft house, which looked as if it had been smashed by a bomb. The slide had missed the farm at Gilsetter and the old manse by less than that distance. He looked at the ruin.
'Who lives in there?' He couldn't believe that anyone inside would still be alive. They'd be smothered by mud or crushed by the debris caught up in the slide. But he couldn't remember anyone living in the croft since Minnie Laurenson had died.
'I think it's empty, Jimmy. Stuart Henderson's son stayed there for a while, but he moved out months ago.' The speaker was Kevin Hay, a big, middle-aged man who lived at Gilsetter and farmed most of the Ravenswick land. Perez couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Hay in a shirt and tie. Probably at the last Ravenswick funeral. His black hair was so wet with the rain that it was plastered to his forehead. It looked as if it had been painted on.
'It hasn't been let out?' Accommodation was still so tight that at this time of year even holiday homes were rented to oil or gas workers. There were few empty houses in Shetland.
'Not as far as I know.' Hay seemed less sure now. 'I haven't noticed anyone in there. No cars parked outside. But the sycamores and our polytunnels mean we can't see it from the house.'
'Unlikely that it's occupied then,' Perez said. It would be hard to manage so far from town without a vehicle. The other mourners were now gathering together around the minister. She was calm and composed and seemed to be taking charge. He supposed they were making plans for getting home. The cemetery car park was on higher ground and their vehicles were undamaged, but some lived on the other side of the slip. 'I'd like to check it out, though.'
There were sheep tracks running up the valley slopes and Perez and Hay followed one of these. They looked down on the ruined house from above. Now the landslide had passed through, there was no sound but the rain. A strange eerie silence after the reverberating noise caused by the slip. People had already called the emergency services and soon there would be fire engines and police cars, but not yet.
The main walls of the croft house were almost intact, but the surge of the slide had weakened the inside walls and the roof had collapsed over half of the house, giving glimpses of the interior. Everything was black, the colour of the peaty earth. Perez slid further down the bank so that he could get a better view of the exposed rooms.
Hay followed, but put a hand on Perez's shoulder. 'Don't get too close, Jimmy. The hill's not too stable. There could be another slide. And I don't think there's anyone to save in there. No point putting your life at risk.'
Perez nodded. He saw that the mourners had reached the car park and people were driving away north, carrying with them friends who lived to the south of the slide. He supposed they'd be moving on to the community hall. The women would have a spread laid out. No point wasting that, and they'd all be ready for a hot drink.
'We should join them, Jimmy,' Kevin Hay said. 'Nothing we can do here.' In the distance they heard the sound of sirens. He looked back at the hill, worried about another landslide.
'You go. I need to stay anyway.' Perez looked beyond the house. There'd been a lean-to shed on the back of the kitchen and that had been completely destroyed: glass and the corrugated iron roof would have been swept into the mud. Beyond it, though, a stone wall that separated the small garden from the open grazing beyond was almost undamaged; it seemed to have funnelled the landslip through a gap where a wooden gate had once been. Nearest the space, the edges of the wall were ragged, eaten away like unravelled knitting, but beyond the gap on each side they were quite solid. The tide of earth had deposited debris there, thrown it up on its way through. Perez saw a bedhead, a couple of plastic garden chairs that must have been stored in the leanto. And something else, bright against the grey wall and the black soil. A splash of red. Brighter than blood.
He scrambled down the bank towards it. A woman's body had been left behind by the ebbing tide of earth. She wore a red silk dress, exotic, glamorous. Not the thing for a February day in Shetland, even if she'd been indoors when the landslide swept her away. Her hair and her eyes were black and Perez felt a strange atavistic connection. She could be Spanish, like his ancestors of centuries ago. Kevin Hay was already walking back to the cars and Perez stood alone with her until the emergency services arrived.CHAPTER 2
The landslide caused chaos. The main road from Lerwick to Sumburgh Airport would be closed for at least the next day, and just where the slip had been there were no roads to set up a diversion. Flights into Sumburgh had been diverted to Scatsta Airport in North Mainland, which was normally only used for oil- and gas-related traffic, but was now stretched to capacity. Business people fired off emails of complaint to the council, as if they could influence the elements, and then booked themselves onto the ferry. Power lines were down – the slide had snapped poles and dragged them from their foundations. In the south of the island, people lucky enough still to have them reverted to the little generators they had used before mains electricity, and which they kept for emergencies. Others made do with candles and paraffin lamps.
The day after the incident Jimmy Perez was busy. He was the boss, so it was mostly meetings: with the council, to work on getting the road open as soon as possible; with social services, to check that the vulnerable and elderly had food delivered to them, and that their houses were warm. Not exactly police work, but in the islands it was important to be flexible. He disliked being trapped in the police station and in endless discussions. And still it rained, so he looked out at a grey town, the horizon between the sea and the sky blurred with cloud. Today it hardly seemed to get light.
The main focus of his colleagues was to identify the woman who'd been killed in the landslide. As far as they could tell, she'd been the only casualty. There were no pockets in the silk dress and no handbag had been found. So there was nothing to identify her, no credit card or passport. The fire service said it was too dangerous yet to get into the ruined house to search for belongings. The bottom of her face, her jaw and her nose had been damaged beyond recognition and there were wounds to the back of her head; Perez thought she'd been gathered up by the moving hillside, tumbled and battered until she'd been left adrift at the stone dyke. Yet her forehead and her eyes had seemed oddly untouched. There were scratches and tears in the skin, but the structure of that part of the face had been left intact. Her dark eyes had stared out at him. Perez hoped that the first impact had killed her, knocked her out at least, so she'd had no knowledge of what was happening to her. He still felt the weird and irrational attachment that he'd experienced at the scene.
They assumed she must have been staying in the croft house that had been half-flattened and filled with black earth. On holiday perhaps. Yesterday had been the eve of St Valentine's, and in Perez's head she'd been trying on the red dress for her lover. Making sure that she would look good for the following evening. Perhaps she'd planned to cook him dinner. Something spicy and Mediterranean, made with peppers and tomatoes as red as the dress. Perez knew all these were fantasies, but he couldn't help himself. He wanted a name for her.
They still hadn't tracked down the owner of the house, though they did have a name for it: Tain. Apparently it had been inherited by a woman who lived in America, from an elderly aunt. Word in the community was that she rented it out on an ad hoc basis. She had plans to do it up and didn't want to let it out long-term. Robert Henderson, whose brother had been the last tenant, was enjoying a Caribbean cruise, and the brother himself was working in the Middle East. It was all frustrating and unsatisfactory. Perez knew there would be a logical explanation and that soon somebody would come forward to identify her, but at present the dead woman remained mysterious, fuelling his imagination and making him feel ridiculous.
Her body would be sent by ferry to Aberdeen for the post-mortem and Perez hoped they could get a name from dental records, once the pathologist James Grieve had started his work, but that could take days. And they needed some idea who she was before they could find her dentist. Perez didn't think there was any point checking in the islands. She wasn't local. He would have seen her in town or heard about the dark lady who lived on the edge of his community.
Now he was between meetings. He'd made coffee and stared out of his window towards the town hall. Its bulk was a shadow against the grey sky. Sandy Wilson knocked and came in.
'I've spoken to most of the estate agents in Lerwick. None of them managed the Ravenswick house or rented it out.'
'We need to track down the owner then.' Perez continued looking out of the window at the rain. 'The dead woman might have been their friend or relative. Do we still have no idea who it belongs to?' Sandy shook his head. 'The person who might have had an idea is dead.'
'What do you mean?'
'Magnus Tait. He would have grown up with Minnie Laurenson, the old lady who used to live there. He might have been able to point us in the direction of the niece who inherited it.'
But Magnus had died after a stroke at the age of eighty-five and Perez suddenly realized that he still needed to grieve for the man. Magnus had been a part of his life for the past few years. The landslide cutting short the funeral had disturbed the natural process of mourning. At least Magnus had been laid to rest with some dignity, lowered into the ground before the cemetery had been inundated with mud.
Perez had first met Fran, his fiancée, because she'd been Magnus's neighbour, and the crofter had arrived at Perez's door soon after Fran's funeral. Looking as awkward as a shy child. Clutching in his hand a bag of the sweets he knew Cassie loved. For the bairn. Yon wife was a good woman. Then he'd turned and walked down the bank to his croft, making no other demands, not expecting Perez to chat or to invite him in.
'The woman in the red dress couldn't have been the owner?' After all, why not? Perez thought. He'd imagined the dead woman as exotic and Spanish, but perhaps an American woman would wear red silk too.
Sandy shrugged. He didn't like to speculate in case he got things wrong.
'And you're sure that nobody has been reported missing?' Perez thought the woman couldn't have been staying in the house alone. Or if she was there alone, she had known people in the islands. February wasn't the time for a walking holiday or sightseeing. And if she was that sort of tourist, she wouldn't be dressed the way they'd found her. She'd be wearing jeans and a sweater, woollen socks – even indoors. 'When will they go in?'
'Soon,' Sandy said. 'Before it gets dark. They've got a generator set up, but they'd rather start during daylight.'
Perez nodded. 'You be there, Sandy. But before you go, talk to Radio Shetland about putting out a request for information on this evening's show. A phone number for the owner, or a contact. She'd have somebody to clean the place between visitors and to hold the keys. And a description of our mysterious woman.'
Excerpted from Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves. Copyright © 2016 Ann Cleeves. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Outstanding read, suspenseful and intriguing. You don't get it until the very end. Truly magnificent read, I couldn't put it down. Continued reading well into the early morning hours until I was done. I highly recommend all of her books.
Love the people and fell in love with Shetland please write more
This series of books, set in the Shetland Islands, is one of the best sets of mysteries I have ever read. Recommended highly, and do start from the first book and read all the way through. If you enjoy this genre, you will enjoy these books.
I eagerly awaited the US release of the latest Shetland Mystery by Ann Cleeves, COLD EARTH. This is the 7th Shetland Mystery featuring the Shetland Islands and Jimmy Perez. I was not disappointed. Ms. Cleeves writes her mysteries with complex characters, twisting-turning plots and a brilliant sense of place and cultural intensity. One wants to book the next ferry to the islands! She should receive a stipend from the Shetland Islands Tourist Board! In COLD EARTH, a sudden landslide smashes through a house and leaves a dead body in its aftermath. Our Jimmy Perez becomes a bit obsessed with tracing the beautiful dead woman’s identity and the reason she was living in this ‘thought to be uninhabited’ home. I like the way that Sandy has matured and is recognized for his good police work and detecting skills. Jimmy and Willow tiptoe around each other - Jimmy is still mourning Fran and very caring of Cassie. He is melancholy and not sure if any personal involvement is a good idea. Jimmy and Willow make a great detective team, however, and work very well together in solving this case. (with Sandy’s help) I would recommend any of Ann Cleeves’ titles, but this series really speaks to me. The BBC series is wonderful, also.