Shetland Books in Order: How to read Ann Cleeves’s series?

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Before it was a television series starring Douglas Henshall, Shetland was a book series, a crime series written by Ann Cleeves, the author of the Vera Stanhope series.

The story is set in the isolated Scottish Shetland Isles and follows Detective Inspector Perez and his police colleagues’ investigations as they become entwined in the island community. They investigate mysterious disappearances, murders, and the darkest secrets of Scotland’s most northerly isles.

How to read the Shetland Series in Order?

Every novel in the Shetland book series works as a standalone story, but the lives of the different characters evolve from one novel to the other.

  1. Raven Black – On New Year’s Eve, the lonely outcast named Magnus Tait, who stays home waiting for visitors who never come. But the next morning the body of a murdered teenage girl is discovered nearby, and suspicion falls on Magnus. Inspector Jimmy Perez enters an investigative maze that leads deeper into the past of the Shetland Islands than anyone wants to go.
  2. White Nights – The launch of an exhibition at The Herring House art gallery is disturbed by a stranger who bursts into tears, then claims not to remember who he is or where he comes from. The next day he’s found dead.
  3. Red Bones – When a young archaeologist discovers a set of human remains, the locals are intrigued. Is it an ancient find – or a more contemporary mystery? Then an elderly woman fatally is shot and Detective Jimmy Perez is called in. A claustrophobic mists swirl around the Shetland Islands, and Inspector Perez finds himself totally in the dark.
  1. Blue Lightning – Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez brings his fiancée home to Fair Isle, a birder’s paradise, where strangers are viewed with suspicions and distrust. When a woman’s body is discovered at the island’s bird observatory, the investigation is hampered by a raging storm that renders the island totally isolated. Jimmy has to find clues the old-fashioned way, and he has to do it quickly.
  2. Dead Water – When the body of a journalist is found, Detective Inspector Willow Reeves is drafted from outside to head up the investigation. Inspector Jimmy Perez has been out of the loop, but his local knowledge is needed in this case, and he decides to help Willow. The dead journalist had left the islands years before to pursue his writing career. In his wake, he left a scandal involving a young girl.
  3. Thin Air – A group of old university friends leave the bright lights of London and travel to Shetland to celebrate the marriage of one of their friends. But, one of them, Eleanor, disappears–apparently into thin air. Detectives Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves are dispatched to investigate.
  4. Offshore – A collection of eight short stories, all set on islands off the coast of the UK, and features cases for both DI Jimmy Perez on Shetland, and DI Willow Reeves on Uist in the Outer Hebrides.
  5. Too Good To Be True – Another short story. When young teacher Anna Blackwell is found dead in her home, the police think her death was suicide or a tragic accident. But Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez soon arrives from far-away Shetland when his ex-wife, Sarah, asks him to look into the case.
  1. Cold Earth – In the dark days of a Shetland winter, torrential rain triggers a landslide that crosses the main road and sweeps down to the sea. At the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait, Jimmy Perez watches the flood of mud and water smash through a house in its path. Everyone thinks the home is uninhabited, but in the wreckage, he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. Perez soon becomes obsessed with tracing her identity and realizes he must find out who she was and how she died.
  2. Wild Fire – When the Flemings―designer Helena and architect Daniel―move into a remote community in the north of Shetland, they think it’s a fresh start for themselves and their children. But their arrival triggers resentment, and Helena begins to receive small drawings of a gallows and a hanged man. Gossip spreads like wildfire.

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  1. The Shetland series rank among the best and most enjoyable crime and love stories I have read. I ordered them from the library so that I could read them in order and am o my sad to have reached the last one

  2. I am up to series 5 episode 3 on kpbs. I cannot find a book so I can finish the series which go to 6 episodes. pbs is not showing the current series of episode 5. I keep waiting.

    1. I’m also watching Series 5 of Shetland (in Boston, on PBS’s WGBH). I have only one episode left to watch, so it appears I’ll succeed in seeing the whole story. But PBS in general is so undependable in their broadcasts of certain series, including Shetland and Vera, that I just have my TV set to record all episodes, new and repeat. But, through trial and error, I’ve found that Shetland is broadcast principally through something called BritBox, which can be found via Prime video, Amazon’s streaming service. (If you get – i.e., pay for – Amazon Prime for books, the video service is included.)

      But when you find Shetland on Prime, because it is distributed via BritBox, you’ll have to pay extra for it (i.e., over and above your Amazon Prime subscription). Very annoying, but you can get it there. I did this last year for the first episode of Season 4, which I had somehow missed recording.

  3. Hey everyone,
    Try streaming “BritBox”, it has all of Shetland and other great British mysteries. “Acorn” is also a good one.

  4. Richard in Boston is correct about PBS being unreliable in broadcasting Shetland. In Dayton, OH the order shown was almost completely random. I finally had to give up on it since the closed captions did not work on most of the episodes and I found the dialog impossible to understand without CC. Yes, I tried every iteration of captions.

    1. I’ve only just ordered the first eight books, but have been watching the series on BBC here in the uk. An excellent, intelligently written, drama.

      As for the wisdom of actually WATCHING the programmes in order, YES, and the same applies for any TV series that includes the same characters week on week, even the police officers. I tried reading PD James’s novels featuring Roy Grace out of order, but ended up stopping mid-book and giving in because of the “issue” with this missing wife. And in another detective series of books (Rankin) the main character kept going up and down a rank and I needed to find out WHY, what had he done – again – to seriously upset the powers-that-be!

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