When a young archaeologist studying on a site at Whalsay discovers a set of human remains, the island settlers are intrigued. Is it an ancient find – or a more contemporary mystery?
Then an elderly woman is shot in a tragic accident in the middle of the night. Shetland detective Jimmy Perez is called in by her grandson – his own colleague, Sandy Wilson.
The story centres round an archaeological dig on Mima Wilson’s croft where a human skull has been found. Red Bones, book three in the Shetland series, finds Sandy Wilson, Mima’s grandson, visiting family on Whalsay, a short ferry ride from Lerwick where he lives and works as a detective constable in the Shetland police force.
After a night out and a few drinks with friends, Sandy was on his way to Mima’s when he heard a shot. Assuming it would be his cousin Ronald, after rabbits, he doesn’t think too much about it. Perturbed at finding the house empty but the lights and TV on, Sandy picks up a torch and goes outside. He finds Mima in a heap on the ground. It was only when he picks her up to carry her inside he sees the blood and the wounds in her stomach.
Setter was the most sheltered croft on the island. The archaeologist who’d arrived last year from a university in the south said people had been living on that land for thousands of years. He’d asked if they might dig a few trenches in a field close to the house. A project for a post graduate student, he said. One of them had an idea that there had been a grand dwelling on the site. They’d put the land back they way they’d found it. Sandy thought Mima would have let them on anyway. She’d taken to the historian. ‘He’s a fine looking man,’ she’d said to Sandy, her eyes glittering. Sandy had seen what she must have been like as a girl. Daring. Shameless. No wonder the other island women were wary of her.
Sandy calls his boss, DI Jimmy Perez, to come over since the death involves a firearm. It seems it could be a horrible accident and Ronald miscalculated his shot in the darkness. As he begins to investigate the circumstances surrounding Mina’s death Perez isn’t quite convinced. When another death occurs, made to look like suicide, he’s certain all isn’t as straightforward as it first appeared. Despite the uncooperative islanders, he uncovers more than he bargained for with feuds reaching back through the generations which point to secrets among families and neighbours.
I’m breaking my own rules and reading, or listening to, this series completely out of order. It’s not something I normally do but having watched each season on TV, which helps enormously with visualising the people and the locale, and at the same time becoming familiar with the characters, it’s not so much of an issue.
As with all The Shetland novels, the atmospheric setting, detailed characterisations and small communities give a very authentic feel. Sandy’s developing maturity is evident, and Perez’s tendency to want to learn about people and their lives seems to help in his investigations and search for the truth. Interesting snippets of island history, particularly the Shetland Bus during World War II, and modern day life add to the enjoyment. These aren’t fast paced crime fiction, but offer a slow and steady building up to the final reveal, with enough false leads and twists to muddy the waters.
Ann is the author of the books behind ITV’s VERA, now in its third series, and the BBC’s SHETLAND, which was first aired in December 2012. Ann’s DI Vera Stanhope series of books is set in Northumberland and features the well loved detective along with her partner Joe Ashworth. Ann’s Shetland series bring us DI Jimmy Perez, investigating in the mysterious, dark, and beautiful Shetland Islands…
Ann grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. Her father was a village school teacher. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs – child care officer, women’s refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard – before going back to college and training to be a probation officer.
While she was cooking in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, she met her husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist. She was attracted less by the ornithology than the bottle of malt whisky she saw in his rucksack when she showed him his room. Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person’s not heavily into birds – and Ann isn’t – there’s not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing. Her first series of crime novels features the elderly naturalist, George Palmer-Jones. A couple of these books are seriously dreadful.