Review: Red Bones by Ann Cleeves

The third installment of Ann Cleeves’ Shetland quartet takes place on the island of Whalsey. Two young female students are conducting an archaeological dig on land belonging to one of the islands older residents, Mima Wilson, and discover some bones. These are quickly sent for dating in the hopes they will support the theory that Hattie, one of the students, has developed about the site’s past but their discovery sets off a chain of tragic events for the island.

Much of this book is told from the perspectives of two police officers who are involved in the very low-key investigation at the centre of the novel. Inspector Jimmy Perez is a master questioner, being particularly adept at allowing silences to linger until the other person has to fill them. In this book he seems much more mature than he was in the previous book, White Nights, which is probably a combination of natural aging and the fact he is leading the investigation on his own this time. I think I enjoyed him more in this outing because his girlfriend was absent for most of the book. It’s not that I have anything against her as a character but their romance is very laboured which I found quite dull in the previous book. The second person whose point of view features in the book is Sandy Wilson who is Perez’ detective sergeant and is from Whalsey. It is through his eyes that we see into the family dramas and history of the island. Both men are well-developed, introspective characters whose personal reflections on the case and wider events are compelling.

Once again Cleeves has painted an intimate picture of a small, relatively isolated community with strong links to the past and where people feel strongly about the importance of family and traditions. Even the outsiders who make a success of their entry into the society do so because of their respect for those elements. For me, a city girl through and through, such depictions are cloying and, frankly, a little scary (I love being able to be anonymous when I choose) but half the fun of reading these stories is seeing an environment totally different from my own.

As a mystery Red Bones is more accomplished than its predecessor in that it’s more logical and less melodramatic though I have to say it is, if anything, slower. There really isn’t a lot of action at all, in fact for much of the book it is uncertain whether a crime has been committed. There were a few times when I thought it could have done with a hurry along or at least an event other than another visit to one of the two main island families to sustain my curiosity. So, if you’re looking for a fast-paced or action-packed story you’d best look elsewhere but Red Bones, though slow and very gentle, does captivate and draw the reader into its world.

What about the audio book?

Gordon Griffin is my favourite kind of narrator who manages to portray an entire cast of characters without really seeming to change his voice at all yet at the same time making it perfectly clear who is speaking. It’s all done with slight changes of tone, volume and pitch and really does make for the perfect listening experience

You can check out my review of book 2 in the series, White Nights, and Red Bones has been reviewed at Euro Crime (by Maxine)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5
Narrator Gordon Griffin
Publisher ISIS Audio Books
ISBN N/A (downloaded from
Length 11 hours 21 minutes
Format audio download (unabridged)
Source My collection

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7 Responses to Review: Red Bones by Ann Cleeves

  1. kathy durkin says:

    Thanks for the heads-up. I am a bit of an urban snob, although I can enjoy books set in other types of settings. So it’ll go on the unmanageable TBR list somewhere, for later. Am ensconced in Malla Nunn’s second book, with Zoe Ferraris’ new book handy and many waiting for me at the library, and a huge list to order from Amazon, which I’m trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to pare down to a realistic number. The reviews here, at Petrona, Crime Scraps and a few other blogs, are just too tempting.


  2. Bernadette – Thanks for this excellent review. It is interesting, isn’t it, how that small, rural, out-of-the-way environment can be either tempting or off-putting. It does play a big role in this quartet, so I can see how it would affect a city person.


  3. Maxine says:

    Lovely review, Bernadette. Although I’ve lived in a city for many years (and was born in another one), I have spend a few years of my life living in small villages and it is a bit scary! The next one in this series is very good, I think, and apparently she will write a fifth even though the series is called a “quartet”. Maybe she’ll just pick out one or two characters and relocate them in future, who knows?


  4. Dorte H says:

    I am a sucker for remote settings, and as long as the author writes well, I don´t mind slow stories the least. And the funny thing is that even though my Danish village background should be very different from Whalsay, I can really identify with the place – plus the observation that the men live in the past and prefer to stay there while the women are more ambitious.


  5. A very good book – and Gordon Griffin is a very good reader, a real favourite of mine.


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