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 © 2009 Ann Cleeves
All rights reserved.
Anna opened her eyes and saw a pair of hands, streaked and shiny with blood. No face. In her ears a piercing squeal. At first she thought she was at Utra and Ronald was helping Joseph to kill another pig. That would explain the blood, the red hands and the terrible high-pitched sound. Then she realized the noise was her own voice screaming.
Someone rested a dry hand on her forehead and murmured words she didn't understand. She spat out an obscenity at him.
This is what it is to die.
The drug must be wearing off because she had a sudden burst of clarity as she opened her eyes again to bright, artificial light.
No, this is what it is to give birth.
'Where's my baby?' She could hear the words slightly blurred by the pethidine.
'He was having problems breathing on his own. We've just given him some oxygen. He's fine.' A woman's voice. A Shetlander, slightly patronizing, but convincing, and that mattered most.
Further away a man with blood to his elbow grinned awkwardly.
'Sorry,' he said. 'Retained placenta. Better to get it out here than take you to theatre. I thought you wouldn't want that after a forceps delivery, but it can't have been very comfortable.'
She thought of Joseph again, the hill ewes lambing, the ravens flying off with placenta in their beaks and on their claws. This hadn't been what she'd been expecting. She hadn't thought childbirth would be so violent or so raw. She turned and saw Ronald; he was still holding her hand.
'I'm sorry I swore at you,' Anna said.
She saw he'd been weeping. 'I was so scared,' he said. 'I thought you were dying.'CHAPTER 2
'Anna Clouston had her baby last night,' Mima said. 'A difficult birth apparently. She was in labour for twenty hours. They're going to keep her in for a few days to keep an eye on her. It was a boy. Another man to take on the Cassandra.' She shot a conspiratorial look at Hattie. It seemed to amuse Mima that Anna had had a difficult labour. Mima liked chaos, disorder, other people's misfortune. It gave her something to gossip about and kept her alive. That was what she said, at least, when she sat in her kitchen cackling into her tea or whisky, filling Hattie in on island events.
Hattie didn't know what to say about Anna Clouston's child – she'd never seen the appeal of babies and didn't understand them. A baby would just be another complication. They were standing at Setter, in the field at the back of the house. A wash of spring sunshine lit the makeshift windbreak of blue plastic, the wheelbarrows, the trenches marked with tape. Seeing it as if for the first time, Hattie thought what a mess they'd made of this end of the croft. Before her team from the university had turned up, Mima had looked out over sloping low meadow to the loch. Now, even at the beginning of the season the place was muddy as a building site and Mima's view was interrupted by the spoil heap. The wheelbarrow run had scored ruts in the grass.
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.
Mima had been pinning towels on to the washing line, surprisingly supple despite her age. She was so small that she had to stretch to reach the line. Hattie thought she looked like a child, prancing on tiptoes. The laundry basket was empty. 'Come away in and have some breakfast,' Mima said. 'If you don't put on a bit of weight you'll blow away.'
'Pots and kettles,' Hattie said as she followed Mima across the grass to the house. And she thought Mima, trotting ahead of her, did look so frail and insubstantial that she might be swept up in a storm and carried out to sea. She'd still be talking and laughing as she went, as the wind twisted her body like a kite-tail until it disappeared.
In the kitchen a bowl of hyacinths was in bloom on the windowsill and the smell of them filled the room. They were pale blue, streaked with white.
'They're pretty.' Hattie sat at the table, pushing the cat off the chair so she could sit down. 'Spring-like.'
'I can't really see the point of them.' Mima reached up to lift a pan from the shelf. 'They're an ugly kind of flower and they stink. Evelyn gave them to me and expected me to be grateful. But I'll kill them soon. I've never kept a houseplant alive yet.'
Evelyn was Mima's daughter-in-law and the subject of much complaint.
All the crockery and cutlery in Mima's house was slightly dirty, yet Hattie, usually so fastidious, so fickle in her appetite, always ate whatever Mima cooked for her. Today Mima was scrambling eggs. 'The hens are laying well again,' she said. 'You'll have to take some with you back to the Bod.' The eggs were covered in muck and straw, but Mima cracked them straight into a bowl and began whisking them with a fork. Translucent white and deep yellow yolk splashed on to the oilskin tablecloth. Using the same fork she scooped a lump of butter from a wrapped packet and shook it into the pan on the Rayburn. The butter sizzled and she tipped in the eggs. She threw a couple of slices of bread directly on to the hotplate and there was a smell of burning.
'Where's Sophie this morning?' Mima asked when they'd both started eating. Her mouth was full and her false teeth didn't quite fit, so it took Hattie a moment to understand what she was saying.
Sophie was Hattie's assistant on the dig. Usually Hattie did the planning and the preparation. It was her PhD after all, her project. She was obsessive about getting things right. But this morning she'd been eager to get on to the site as soon as possible. It was good to get away from Sophie sometimes, and as much as anything she was glad of a chance to chat to Mima on her own.
Mima liked Sophie. The season before the girls had been invited to a dance at the community hall and Sophie had been the life and soul of the party, so the men had been queuing up to swing her around in the eightsome reel. She'd flirted with them all, even the married ones. Hattie had watched, disapproving and anxious, but jealous too. Mima had come up behind Hattie and yelled in her ear above the noise of the music: 'That lass reminds me of myself at that age. I had the men flocking around me too. It's all just a bit of fun to her. It means nothing. You should lighten up a bit yourself.'
How I've missed Whalsay over the winter! Hattie thought. How I've missed Mima!
'Sophie's working in the Bod for a while,' she said. 'Paperwork. You know. She'll be along soon.'
'Well?' Mima demanded, bird-like eyes bright over the rim of the mug. 'Did you find yourself a man while you were out? A good-looking academic maybe? Someone to keep you warm in bed in those long winter nights?'
'Don't tease, Mima.' Hattie cut a corner from the toast, but left it uneaten. She no longer felt hungry.
'Maybe you should find yourself an island man. Sandy's still not found himself a wife. You could do worse. He's got more life about him than his mother, at least.'
'Evelyn's all right,' Hattie said. 'She's been good to us. Not everyone on the island supported the dig and she's always stood up for us.'
But Mima wasn't ready yet to let go of the subject of Hattie's love life. 'You watch yourself, girl. You find yourself the right one. You don't want to get hurt. I know all about that. My Jerry wasn't the saint everyone made him out to be.' Then, lapsing into dialect. 'Dee can live without a man, dee ken. I've lived without a man for nearly sixty years.'
And she winked, making Hattie think that though Mima might not have had a husband for sixty years, she'd probably had men enough in her life. Hattie wondered what else the old woman was trying to say.
Immediately after the plates were washed, Hattie went back on to the site. Mima stayed inside. It was Thursday, the day she entertained Cedric, her gentleman caller. Thoughts of this place had been with Hattie all winter, warming her like a lover. Her obsession with the archaeology, the island and its people had become one in her mind: Whalsay, a single project and a single ambition. For the first time in years she felt a bubbling excitement. Really, she thought, I have no reason to think like this. What is the matter with me? She found herself grinning. I'll have to watch myself. People will think I'm mad and lock me away again. But that only made her smile some more.
When Sophie arrived, Hattie set her to preparing a practice trench. 'If Evelyn wants to be a volunteer we should train her to do it properly. Let's clear an area away from the main excavation.'
'Shit, Hat! Do we really have to have her on site? I mean, she's kind enough but she's a real bore.' Sophie was tall and fit with long tawny hair. She'd been working as a chalet maid in the Alps over the winter, helping out a friend, and her skin was bronzed and glowing. Sophie was easy and relaxed and took everything in her stride. She made Hattie feel like a neurotic drone.
'It's a condition of our work in Shetland that we encourage community involvement,' Hattie said. 'You know that.' Oh God, she thought, now I sound like a middle-aged schoolteacher. So pompous!
Sophie didn't answer. She shrugged and went on with the work.
Later, Hattie said she'd go to Utra to talk to Evelyn about training to work on the dig. It was an excuse. She hadn't had the chance to revisit her favourite places in Lindby. The sun was still shining and she wanted to make the most of the good weather. As she walked past the house, Cedric was just driving away in his car. Mima was at the kitchen window waving him off. When she saw Hattie she came to the open door.
'Will you come in and have a cup of tea?'
But Hattie thought Mima just wanted to prise more information from her and to give her more advice. 'No,' she said. 'I've no time today. But Sophie's due a break if you want to give her a shout.'
And she walked on down the track with the sun on her face, feeling like a child playing truant from school.CHAPTER 3
Anna's baby spent the first night of his life in Intensive Care. The midwives said it was nothing to worry about. He was doing fine, a lovely little boy. But he still needed a bit of help with his breathing and they'd keep him in the resussitaire for a while. Besides, Anna was exhausted and she needed the rest. In the morning they'd bring the baby through to her and help her to feed him. There was no reason why they shouldn't both be home in a couple of days.
She slept fitfully, drifting in and out. The doctor had given her more painkillers and her dreams were very vivid. Once, waking suddenly, she wondered if this was what it would be like to be on drugs. At university she'd never been tempted down that route. It was always important to her to be in control.
She was aware of Ronald beside her. A couple of times she heard him talking on his mobile. She thought the conversations would be with his parents. She started to tell him that he shouldn't be using a phone in the hospital, but lethargy overcame her and the words didn't come out properly.
She woke when it got light and felt much more herself again, a little bruised and battered, but alert. Ronald was fast asleep on the chair in the corner, his head back, his mouth open, snoring loudly. A midwife appeared.
'How's my baby?' Anna found it hard to believe now that there was a baby, that she hadn't imagined the whole experience of giving birth. She felt quite disconnected from the evening before.
'I'll bring him through to you. He's doing very well now, breathing normally on his own.'
Ronald stirred in his chair and woke too. He looked like his father with the stubble of beard on his chin, his eyes slightly vacant from sleep.
The baby was lying in a plastic box that reminded Anna of a fish tank. He was lying on his back. His skin had a faint yellow tinge; Anna had read the books and knew that was normal. He had a downy covering of dark hair and there was a pink mark on each side of his head.
'Don't worry about that,' the midwife said. She assumed she could guess what Anna was thinking. 'It's because of the forceps delivery. It'll go in a couple of days.' She scooped the baby up, wrapped him in a blanket and handed him to Anna. Anna looked down at a tiny, perfect ear.
'Shall we have a go at feeding him?' Ronald was properly awake now. He sat on the bed next to Anna on the opposite side to the midwife. He held out his finger and watched the baby grip it.
The midwife was showing Anna the best way to feed the baby. 'Put a pillow on your lap like this and hold his head with this hand and guide him to your nipple like this ...' Anna, usually so competent in practical matters, felt clumsy and inadequate. Then the baby latched on to her and began to suck and she could feel the pull of it down through her belly.
'There you are,' the midwife said. 'You're a natural. If everything goes well there's no reason you shouldn't be home tomorrow.'
When the woman had gone they continued to sit on the bed and look at the baby. He fell suddenly fast asleep and Ronald lifted him carefully and put him back in the plastic cot. Anna had been given a room of her own with a view across the grey houses to the sea. They drafted the notice they would place in the Shetland Times: To Ronald and Anna Clouston on March 20th, a son, James Andrew. First grandchild to Andrew and Jacobina Clouston of Lindby, Whalsay, and James and Catherine Brown of Hereford, England.
The timing of James's birth had been planned, as everything in Anna's life was planned. She thought spring was the perfect time to bring a baby into the world and Whalsay would be a wonderful place to bring up a child. The process had been more painful and messy than she'd imagined, but now that was over and there was no reason why their family life shouldn't run smoothly.
Ronald couldn't keep his eyes off his son. She should have guessed he might be a doting father.
'Why don't you get off home?' she said. 'Get a shower and a change of clothes. Everyone will want to hear the news.'
'I might do that.' She could tell he wasn't comfortable in the hospital. 'But should I come and visit you tonight?'
'No,' she said. 'It's such a long drive, and then the time on the ferry. You'll need to be in first thing in the morning to take us home.' She thought she'd welcome some time alone with her son. She smiled as she imagined Ronald doing the grand tour of the island, full of news about the birth and his son. He'd have to visit all his relatives, repeating the tale of how her waters burst while they were shopping in the Co-op, the difficult labour and the child who was pulled screaming into the world.CHAPTER 4
Hattie could have done without having Evelyn here at Setter at all today. They'd only been back in Whalsay for a week and she had other things to think about, anxieties that snagged at the back of her mind along with the moments of joy. Besides, she wanted to get on with the dig. Her dig, which had lain covered up since the autumn. Now the longer days and finer weather had brought her back to Shetland to complete the project. She itched to get back into the main trench, to continue the sieving and dating, to complete her meticulous records. She wanted to prove her thesis and to lose herself in the past. If she could prove that Setter was the site of a medieval merchant's house, she would have an original piece of research for her PhD. More importantly, the discovery of artefacts dating the building and confirming its status would give her grounds to make a funding application to extend the excavation. Then she would have an excuse to stay in Shetland. She couldn't bear the idea that she might be forced to leave the islands. She didn't think she could ever live in a city again.
But Evelyn was a local volunteer and she needed training and Hattie needed to keep her on side. Hattie knew she didn't handle volunteers well. She was impatient and expected too much from them. She used language they had no hope of understanding. Today wouldn't be easy.
They'd woken again to sunshine, but now a mist had come in from the sea, filtering the light. Mima's house was a shadow in the distance and everything looked softer and more organic. It was as if the surveying poles had grown from the ground like willows and the spoil heap was natural, a fold in the land.
The day before, Sophie had marked out a practice trench a little way off from the main site and dug out the turf. She'd exposed roots and a patch of unusually sandy, dry soil and levelled the area with a mattock so the practice dig could begin. The topsoil had been dumped on the existing spoil heap. Everything was ready when Evelyn turned up at ten, just as she'd said she would, wearing corduroy trousers and a thick old sweater. She had the anxious, eager-to-please manner of a pupil sucking up to the teacher. Hattie talked her through the process.
Excerpted from Red Bones by Ann Cleeves. Copyright © 2009 Ann Cleeves. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Shetland Islands Inspector Jimmy Perez investigates the murder of Mima Wilson, who was shot to death. The case is somewhat personal as Mima was the grandma of the police detective's subordinate Sandy Wilson. The locals on Whalsay Island believe Mima's grandson Ronald accidentally shot and killed her, but Perez has doubts about the theory. Instead he wonders if the homicide might be linked to an archeological dig on Mima's land. Ph.D. candidate student Hattie James recently dug up a skeleton that might date back to the fifteenth century or earlier. A second body is found at the excavation location; that person apparently committed suicide leading the detective to assume the bones are contemporary. Perez with Sandy's surprisingly somewhat competent but reluctant help begins to unravel Wilson secrets that date back to WWII and the resistance. The third Shetland Island police procedural (see RAVEN BLACK and WHITE NIGHTS) is a super whodunit. Jimmy is terrific as he battles the islanders who know Ronald accidentally killed his grandma and thus believe an investigation is a waste of time and money. Fans will enjoy Jimmy's efforts to uncover what really happened on Whalsay Island with no one, not even Sandy who is pulled between family and work loyalties, fully cooperating. Harriet Klausner
A couple of archaeology students at a dig on Whalsay island find silver coins and bones, including part of a skull on croft land belonging to an elderly lady. When the elderly lady is shot late at night, it is assumed to be a tragic accident, the result of her drunken grand-nephew out rabbit hunting. When later, the lead archaeologist is also found dead in one of the trenches, her death is pronounced a suicide.But are the 2 deaths linked at all? Inspector Jimmy Perez ferries over to Whalsay and thinks that there are secrets on the island, secrets that may have caused the 2 deaths, although his challenge is finding the evidence to prove it. His boss wants him to wrap this up neatly as an accident and a suicide but Inspector Perez's gut tells him otherwise and in his attention to detail and ear for stories, he starts to unravel some of the secrets that some families would do almost anything for to keep in the dark.
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!
This is the third in what the publishers call The Shetland Islands Quartet in some places, A Shetland Islands Thriller in others. I hope that this betokens a realization on the part of Cleeves and her publishers that the series has the essential ingredient for longevity: Terrific characters entwined in believeable relationships.We see Jimmy Perez, our sleuth, living without gal-pal Fran Hunter while she's down south in London to visit family and friends. His every waking thought seems to return to her, to her daughter Cassie, and to the natural fears of a man in love whose lover is far away: Is she safe, is she having too good a time to want to come back, is this the end of my dream of happiness, all the stuff men think but never admit they're thinking.Sandy, Perez's Detective Sergeant, is also away, though closer to home...he's on Whalsay, a short ferry ride from Lerwick where Jimmy is based. While visiting home, Sandy's beloved grandmother is shot. It looks like a horrible, horrible accident. Sandy is first cop on the scene, naturally, and has to make hard calls about how to pursue the matter before Jimmy shows up to take over. Sandy's family will never be the same again, of course, but more importantly for the story, Sandy won't either. Jimmy helps Sandy grow into his manhood during this investigation, and this makes the book far richer than we'd have any right to expect from a simple thriller. When a second horrible death occurs, Sandy and Jimmy both conclude there are connections here that the two of them aren't making, and whether or not the deaths were intentional, the connections need to be investigated and explored. This takes each of them farther from his comfort zone than either expected.Cleeves's plot snake-twines around each character, squeezing the past and the present tightly together, and finally forcing the characters into one inevitable crushing future. It looks nothing like the present. It looks nothing like the future the characters saw coming. And that's why I recommend this book, and this series, with such a strong voice.
This is my type of whodunnit: the clues are all there, interspersed with sufficient red herrings to prevent me from guessing the perpetrator and there is no gratuitous violence. I have railed before about books that try to shock: the problem being, that each 'shocking murder' has to out do the previous one. Ann Cleeves writes a simple style of detective fiction and, instead of these shocks, she concentrates on good writing.The story is set on the tiny islands at the top end of Scotland and concerns an archaeological dig where some red bones are unearthed. Red bones are simply bones that have been in the ground for some time and the question is, are these sixteenth century, or mid twentieth? Two people die but were they killed, or was it an accident and suicide? As in the best of these stories, one is sure, at various points within the plot, that each of the suspects is the guilty person - and still, at the end, one is surprised! This is how the genre should be crafted. The tale is not as one would read in a newspaper, real murders tend to be petty family feuds or sex maniacs, but the plot is feasible. This is only the second Ann Cleeves novel that I have read, but, at risk of repeating my comments upon finishing the first, I shall be looking out for more.
Some like to spend their winter evenings with coffee, a heater and the TV but for me there¿s nothing to beat bed, a book and a cup of tea: a recent spate of first class thrillers is perfect for those who prefer the later scenario.Red Bones is set in Whalsey, one of the Shetland Islands and home to the most Northerly British golf course: the location is all important and Cleeves evokes the foggy romance of the isles very well. Detective Jimmy Perez is called to investigate the accidental but fatal shooting of an old woman, followed shortly by the suicide of a young archaeologist just metres away from where the old woman was killed. Mist, murder and mystery are key elements but the appeal of the story lies in the scenery, the lifestyle and the personalities of the people who inhabit these historically rich but remote islandsA hot water bottle, a bedside lamp and a couple of dozen books like the above and you¿re all set for a long and comfortably cosy winter: bring on the Ice Age.
This is the third book in an excellent series by Ann Cleeves set in the isolated communities that collectively make up the Shetland Islands. In this book, as in the two previous ones, past mysteries and secrets resurface during the investigation of a new one -- in this case, the shooting of Sandy Wilson's grandmother Mima. Was it accidental or on purpose? A second death follows, and the plot begins to thicken. How might they be connected to each other, to an archaelogical dig underway at Mima's croft or to the events of the wartime smuggling and espionage ring between the Shetlands and Norway? In this book, some of the familiar characters from past novels in the series aren't around: DI Taylor has taken a new job, so Jimmy Perez is flying solo on the investigation, aided only by his DC, who happens to be Sandy Wilson. Will Sandy shed his rather addle-pated ways and rise to the occasion? Fran, Jimmy's partner, is also away in London. None of that impedes any enjoyment: Cleeves is a masterful plotter and a careful writer who builds suspense without ever sacrificing character.Those who enjoy character-driven mysteries (think PD James) will relish this offering.
Third in an evocative series of mysteries set on the Shetland Isles, Red Bones combines information about archaeology and history with a vividly up-to-date mystery and enthralling family lives. Family feuds, historical complexities and personal histories wounded by need and greed combine to create very real characters, caught up in very real pain. Death or accident, random or connected crimes, family or stranger—Jimmy Perez goes through all the possibilities as he seeks an explanation and heads toward the final surprise. Red herrings are as real as the red bones here, and the Shetlands invite readers to a hauntingly beautiful place. Disclosure: It was a birthday present.
Almost want to move to Shetland except for all the murders!!! LOL!!!
Great book, love the characters,the history,the whole series is good. Looking forward to next Shetland book.