Yet I am finding this a hard review to write. I liked the books, I want to read all of the series, but I cannot point to any one thing that make them so compelling.
Uppermost for me in these books is characterization and setting. The main character is DI Jimmy Perez and even before reading this series I wondered why a character with such a name is a policeman on the Shetland Islands. It turns out his ancestors came from Spain but have been living in the Shetland Islands for centuries. So he fits in very much with the culture of the islands, and deals well with the people on the islands. For the major crimes that are investigated in these books, a team from Inverness is brought in and DI Roy Taylor is the policeman in charge of the investigation. Taylor is a direct contrast to Perez, and finds the slow, methodical approach of Perez to be irritating at times.
In addition to the primary characters, we get to know several other people who are closely involved with the crime, and much of the story comes from their viewpoint. It allows a very full picture of the community and the relationships within it.
The pace of these books is very slow. The pace of the books seemed to mirror the pace of life in the islands, where people don't like to be hurried. This is completely different from the previous book I read (Frantic by Katherine Howell). Frantic was more focused on movement and action and less on characterization. But I enjoyed the books by both authors, and reading both close together emphasized for me how different books can be, yet still be compelling and a good mystery.
Raven Black involves the murder of a teenage girl in an area where a much younger girl disappeared a few years earlier. This first book takes place in the cold winter when winter fire festivals take place. The Up Helly Aa festival plays a part in the plot.
The second book in the series, White Nights, centers around the death of an outsider, a visitor to the islands who no one appears to know. That book is set at the time of year (mid-summer) when it never really gets dark, a phenomena it is hard for me to imagine.
The Shetland Islands is a very different setting from any I have read about before. Per Wikipedia, the Shetland Islands "is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies north-east of mainland Britain." The largest island is known as "Mainland." The action in both these books takes place on that island, although in different parts of it. There are 15 other inhabited islands; one of them is Fair Isle, which is where Jimmy Perez was raised. I learned a great deal about the islands from reading the book (and doing research online afterwards).
description of the Shetland mystery series:
Raven Black was initially intended as a standalone novel - after all, how many murders could there be in Shetland? But the book was so successful, winning the first Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for the best crime novel of the year, as well as numerous fans, that Ann wrote another Shetland mystery, and then another - until she had completed a quartet covering all four seasons and a tour of the archipelago.On that same page, there is information about the TV series based on the books and links to maps of Shetland.
The turning of the year's circle and the dramatic changes it has brought for Jimmy Perez don't mean the end of the story - Ann's latest book, Dead Water, brings new beginnings - and the start of a new quartet based on the four elements: earth, water, fire and air.