Red Bones by Ann Cleeves: A review


I enjoyed reading the second book in the Shetland series, White Nights, so much that I decided to head straight on into the third. So on to Red Bones. And these follow the first book in the series, Raven Black. I do believe I'm sensing a theme here.

This one features Jimmy Perez's colleague Sandy Wilson a bit more prominently. The action takes place on Whalsay Island where Sandy's family lives. His grandmother, Jemima (Mima) Wilson, is a bit of a recluse but she had agreed to allow an archaeological team to dig on her land. She had bonded with one of the young archaeologists digging there, a woman named Hattie. The team had made some interesting discoveries, including human bones, among them part of a skull. 

Sandy was supposed to visit his grandmother one night but when he went there she was not in her house. He went looking for her and discovered her body near the digs. She had been shot. He calls his boss, Perez, to report the death. Perez is not on the island and must get a ferry there.

Arriving on Whalsay and looking at the scene, Perez learns that a neighbor, one of Sandy's friends, had been out hunting rabbits with a shotgun the night before, using a light (which is illegal) to mesmerize the animals so that they could be shot. Mima had been shot with a shotgun. It is initially assumed that she was shot by accident. What possible reason could anyone have to kill her? Once again, Perez does not accept the easy assumption. There are some things about the incident that just don't add up for him.

The archaeological team, especially Hattie, are very distressed at Mima's death. Hattie's distress, in particular, seems a bit out of proportion. Later, she calls Perez and tells him she needs to speak with him urgently because she has information related to the death. By this time, Perez had left the island and asked her if she could tell him over the phone, but she insisted that she needed to speak in person. He agreed to return to the island but it would be the next day before he could get there. By the time he arrives, she's dead. Her body was found, also by Sandy, in one of the trenches of the dig. 

So, two deaths somehow related to an archaeological dig, plus a third death if we count the bones discovered at the site. It turns out some of the "red bones" are not ancient.  

Once again Cleeves has constructed a knotty conundrum to tease us and once again I didn't have a clue as to its solution. (Actually, there were clues; I just couldn't see them.) As usual, one of the strengths of the narrative is its description of the scene which evokes a sparse and misty landscape and the emptiness of the sea around it. I think I could become addicted to this series.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


  1. You're cruising through this series! It's one I definitely need to check out this year. :)

  2. You and Sam are on a roll with Ann Cleeves - hard to be disappointed with the kinds of mysteries she creates - such a fine writer.

    1. I read all the Vera series - finished that up last year - so I thought it was time to move on to Shetland.

  3. I've never read any Ann Cleeves & it sounds like maybe I should!

  4. Sandy is one of those characters I've had a mixed reaction to...based mainly on the television shows made from the series. He comes across to me as timid and entirely lacking in self-confidence. In one of the shows, he is even portrayed as willing to jeopardize a murder investigation for personal reasons...and keeping Jimmy in the dark about it all. I was happy to see in Cold Earth that he had finally blossomed a lot and was praised by his superiors. I think part of my problem with Sandy is that I watched too many of the shows before starting to read the books.

    1. The television character is definitely more negative than the one in the books. The book character is a bit of a bumbler and Jimmy doesn't have a very high opinion of him in the early books but he hasn't done anything based on his personal prejudices as he did in the episode you describe. I'm not sure which book that one was based on or in fact if it was based on a particular book.

  5. Why did Perez not go and examine Mima’s body?


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