Friday, September 4, 2009

Ann Cleeves' "Red Bones"

Ann Cleeves' Raven Black, the first volume in the Shetland Island Quartet, received crime fiction’s highest monetary honor, the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award. Booklist called White Nights, the second installment in the series, “[g]ripping from start to finish.”

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Red Bones, and reported the following:
Red Bones is the third book in the Shetland quartet. Set in the spring, it explores ideas of money, of envy and greed. I’d found myself unpopular in the small island of Whalsay: in Raven Black I’d made Sandy Wilson, my detective’s not very smart side-kick, come from there. I wanted to write the action from Sandy’s point of view because obviously he doesn’t consider himself stupid! Most of Shetland’s deep-sea trawlers are based in Whalsay, making it a wealthy place. So theme and character came together.

The story starts with the discovery of a skull in an archaeological dig on Sandy’s grandmother’s land. Soon after, Mima the old woman is found dead apparently shot in a tragic accident by Ronald, a young islander. Both Perez, my hero, and Sandy come to believe the incident was more complicated and that Ronald might not have been involved. The investigation of the case uncovers family secrets, which go back to the second world war.

On page 99 there’s a conversation between Ronald and his English wife Anna, who has just had a baby. It’s a peaceful interlude, but even here we have a sense of the tension between them. It isn’t essential to the plot but something about the tone: reflective and sad, and the emphasis on family, reflects the rest of the book.

Perhaps it would be better to have company tonight. Otherwise she and Ronald would spend all evening going over the incident and she might say something unwise, something she’d really regret.

She heard Ronald open the door into the house.

‘We’re in here,’ she said.

Outside the light seemed to have faded early and she only saw him as a shadow standing just inside the room.

‘Look at you two,’ he said. He was still wearing his jacket, but he’d loosened his tie at the neck. She hardly recognized him in his smart clothes. He was speaking to himself and his accent was more pronounced than when he talked to her.

How can we get on? she thought. We don’t even share the same language. We come from different worlds. I don’t know him at all.

‘Have you been to see the Wilsons?’ she asked.

‘No. I bumped into Sandy but I wouldn’t know what to say to Joseph.’

‘You look so smart,’ she said. ‘All dressed up like that.’

He paused, then shrugged. ‘A gesture of respect maybe. It didn’t seem right to be wearing my working clothes today.’

He came further into the room and squatted beside her chair. He stroked her hair and watched while she prised the baby’s mouth from her nipple with her little finger. She lifted James on to her shoulder and rubbed his back, then held him out to her husband.
Read an excerpt from Red Bones, and learn more about the novel and author at Ann Cleeves's website and online diary.

The Page 99 Test: Raven Black.

The Page 99 Test: White Nights.

--Marshal Zeringue