If you are one of the millions of people around the world fascinated by Jimmy Perez and his crime-solving adventures in Ann Cleeves' Shetland - now a major BBC TV series, we think you'll love the real place. It's every bit as spectacular and fascinating as the stories and series, but with one of the lowest crime rates in the world!
Scroll down to discover what Shetland is really like, tour the locations where the show was shot, and meet Ann Cleeves, author of the books ’Shetland’ is based on.
And remember - Shetland really is thrilling - but it’s also one of the safest, most crime-free places on the planet.
Featuring characters from the novels by award winning crime writer Ann Cleeves, and acclaimed worldwide, Shetland follows DI Jimmy Perez and his team as they investigate crime within the close-knit island community.
Amid spectacular scenery, in an isolated and fascinating environment, the team have to rely on a uniquely resourceful style of policing.
One of its chief pleasures cannot be overstated: it looks stunning. Even the crime scenes are picturesque. It is probably not designed to make you think about moving to Shetland, but it still has that effect.
This is all good, intelligent stuff, extremely engaging even for those of us grown jaded by the detective noir genre.
Two things hopefully will continue to set this series apart - the strong sense of community and Perez's compassionate interaction with it and, of course, the landscape...stunningly beautiful in its bleak solitude, and of character strong enough to match any of the cast.
Savage, frightening and thoroughly watchable.
A gentle yet resounding success. In fact, I’d go further and say that a key element to this success is the incredible richness borne out of the interplay between the cast and its surroundings...the way that location has come to convincingly influence character and guide plot makes for a very easy, and compelling, watch.
I’m hooked... It’s a damn good yarn, a gripping detective story, on top of the mood, the wildness. The beautiful landscape...
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Wild Fire is an intense and emotionally complex novel highlighting the dichotomy between the claustrophobia of living in a close-knit community and needing to bury secrets and lies. Envy, motherhood and family dynamics are powerful themes and Cleeves’ plot is cleverly woven tight making it a tricky case for both Jimmy and the reader to solve.
All good things must come to an end…
Drawn in by the reputation of the islands, an English family move to the area, eager to give their autistic son a better life.
But when a young nanny’s body is found hanging in the barn of their home, rumours of her affair with the husband begin to spread like wild fire.
With suspicion raining down on the family, DI Jimmy Perez is called in to investigate, knowing that it will mean the return to the islands of his on-off lover and boss Willow Reeves, who will run the case. Perez is facing the most disturbing and personal investigation of his career. Is he ready for what is to come?Buy Now on the Amazon.co.uk
Raven Black begins on New Year's Eve with a 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. Buy Now on the Amazon.co.uk
The electrifying follow up to the award-winning Raven Black. Raven Black received crime fiction's highest monetary honor, the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award. Now Detective Jimmy Perez is back in an electrifying sequel. Buy Now on the Amazon.co.uk
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. Buy Now on the Amazon.co.uk
Inspector Jimmy Perez takes his fiancé home to Fair Isle, the tiny island he comes from, to meet his parents. The island is a magnet for bird watchers, who congregate at the local inn and lighthouse. When a local married celebrity, who had an eye for the lads, is murdered, Perez discovers that the suspects are very close to him indeed. Buy Now on the Amazon.co.uk
When an elderly woman is shot in what appears to be a tragic accident, Shetland detective Jimmy Perez is called to investigate the mystery. Buy Now on the Amazon.co.uk
Ann is an award-winning crime writer who has published five novels set in Shetland featuring police detective Jimmy Perez.
Her most recent Shetland book, Wild Fire, was published by Pan Macmillan in September 2018. Ann has a long association with Shetland and confesses to being in love with the place.
Her relationship with the archipelago began in 1975, when she took a job as assistant cook at the Fair Isle bird observatory. She told the Daily Telegraph: “I’d dropped out of university – I was studying English at Sussex and arrogantly thought I could read books anywhere. I was 19, looking for adventure and was running away from a proper job.”
On Fair Isle Ann met her late husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist, and it was on a return trip that a single stark image provided inspiration for her first Shetland novel.
“There were lots of ravens, very black against the snow. So, because I’m a writer, I thought, ‘What if there were blood as well? And would ravens eat a body?’ I checked with Tim, who said they would.
“Initially it was going to be a short story, and my editor said it would stretch credibility if I wrote more than one novel. But after the good reviews and winning the Dagger, we decided we could stretch to a series. My research in Shetland now is just sitting in croft kitchens, chatting and drinking lots of tea. I have such good relationships there, and I know they offered amazing support for the TV production.”
“My first visit to Shetland was a time of dramatic change in the islands. Oil was being extracted from the North Sea for the first time, and the big terminal at Sullom Voe in North Mainland was under construction. On my rare visits to Shetland Mainland, Lerwick – the islands’ biggest settlement – had the feel of a gold-rush town. There was an influx of people who saw the chance of making money; I bumped into suited executives, contractors and oilmen on their way to the rigs.
Shetland has a history of people arriving from outside, though, and I think it managed the time of transition well. It still welcomes visitors with grace and hospitality, whether they’re tourists desperate to experience the fire festival of Up Helly Aa or a BBC film crew. I enjoy writing about the islands just because they are dynamic, changing and energetic. Don’t come to Shetland imagining a Viking theme park, a place fixed in the past. History is important here, but the community looks to the future...”
The award winning TV Series 'Shetland' has been adapted from Ann's books. Series 1 was based upon stories within the books, but from series 2 onwards the storylines written for the screen and are not based on the books, though the main characters are the same.
Features in virtually every episode of the show so far! This spectacular example of a traditional waterside merchant’s store, shop, workshop and house was ‘the most photographed building in Shetland’ long before it began playing Jimmy Perez’s home. Privately owned, but exterior selfies are welcome!
Da Lodberrie, Lerwick. Jimmy Perez's house (in the TV series)VIEW LOCATION ON MAP
The Shetland Museum and Archives with its spectacular boat hall is a superb introduction to Shetland history, geography and culture. The museum's Hays Dock café is where Jimmy Perez meets (real life) archaeologist Val Turner in the televised version of Red Bones. It has fantastic views of Lerwick Harbour and, in fine weather, you can sit on the balcony.
Shetland Museum and Hay's Dock Cafe. Where Jimmy met ValVIEW LOCATION ON MAP
Lying about halfway between Sumburgh Head in Shetland and North Ronaldsay in Orkney, Fair isle, reached by ferry from Sumburgh or daily flights from Tingwall, is legendary, and not just for providing Jimmy with his origins (the name ‘Perez’ , teases Ann Cleeves, is meant to come from an ancestor who was a Spanish sailor, wrecked on the island from the galleon El Gran Grifon). There is also, of course, the knitwear. Did those famous diamond patterns come from Perez’s ancestors?VIEW LOCATION ON MAP
Features in the background of many shots, but the wonderful Sumburgh Head visitor Centre masquerades as visiting pathologist Willow Reeves’s hotel lounge in Series Two. In fact, there is luxury self-catering accommodation available within the centre, and you can lounge around like Jimmy and Willow in the Stevenson Centre, enjoying the panoramic views (puffins galore when it’s the season) along with coffee and homebakes.
Sumburgh Head Lighthouse. Willow's hotel in Series TwoVIEW LOCATION ON MAP
Series Four centres on activities at the Wildlife Sanctuary in Hillswick - and there really is a wildlife sanctuary there, at the ancient Hanseatic trading ‘bod’ known as The Booth. Run by Jan and Pete Bevington, visitors are welcome and there is the possibility of seeing some of the rescued sea mammals the couple care for. The Ness of Hillswick also offers spectacular walks and the St Magnus Bay Hotel is next door to The Booth.
Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, as featured in Series FourVIEW LOCATION ON MAP
The Holes o' Scraada is actually a collapsed sea-cave inland from the Eshaness cliffs with a subterranean passage leading to the sea. It has its own beach at the bottom of a steep 'inner cliff' and nearby is a series of old watermills and signs of ancient settlement. On a stormy day, watching the sea come through the underground passage is an unforgettable sight
The Holes o'Scraada and Eshaness is where Michael McGuire meets a grisly end in Series ThreeVIEW LOCATION ON MAP
In Series Two (Brian Cox plays Magnus Bain, whose cottage sits (privately owned but derelict) above the red sand of Burnside, also known locally as Bugger's (Bogart's) Burn). There is a fantastic view of the Hillswick Drongs and Breiwick, along with the little-known Heads of Grocken, which offer fantastic walking off the beaten track, and for the brave, access to hidden beaches.
Burnside - a fabulous beach but spookily overshadowed by the derelict Magnus Bain's cottage.VIEW LOCATION ON MAP
Free to enter, and just outside Boddam in the South Mainland, the museum lets visitors step back in time to experience life in a typical thatched 19th century Crofthouse. It has been restored so its interior is a replica of how it looked in the 1870s with box beds, a peat fire and garden path leading to a watermill. Thatched roof and all.
The Shetland Crofthouse Museum is pretending to be The Crofting Museum in Series Two.VIEW LOCATION ON MAP
This sand causeway, the UK’s largest active sand tombolo, or double-sided beach, links the South Mainland with the Isle - where the famous St Ninian’s Isle Treasure ( a collection of priceless Pictish silver) was found - and is easily reached from the village of Bigton. Five hundred metres long, this beach, with its unique flat skimming stones and golden sand, was voted as one of the ‘best places to swim’ alongside those in the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Australia by the magazine Travel.
St Ninian's Isle - helped inspire Dead Water and is Series TwoVIEW LOCATION ON MAP
This former Laird’s House is one of the North Mainland’s top hotels and features in Series Two of ‘Shetland’. Look out for the gargoyles rescued from the Houses of Parliament when they were being refurbished after World War Two bomb damage. There are gardens to explore, the historic Long Room for coffee and memories of Winston Churchill’s visit; there's an atmospheric bar and acclaimed restaurant.
Busta House Hotel, as seen in Series Two and one of the most important old houses in Shetland.VIEW LOCATION ON MAP
Bressay (pronounced Bressah) is a fascinating place and provides, during the summer, access to the uninhabited bird reserve of Noss. It is crucial to providing the shelter Lerwick Harbour depends on, and is the site of an important fish meal factory. The lighthouse keeper's cottage on Bressay is available to rent from the Shetland Amenity Trust for holidays.
Bressay lies just across the harbour from Lerwick and is served by frequent roll-on roll-off ferries.VIEW LOCATION ON MAP
The 'real' Whalsay is reached by ferry from Laxo on the eastern mainland, and is known as the centre of Shetland’s deep-sea fishing fleet and is home to the UK’s most northerly - and truly demanding - golf course, at Skaw. A beautifully-restored Hanseatic trading booth sits at the harbour, near the legendary and very welcoming Boating Club.
Whalsay, which is portrayed by Bressay in the TV series, but is a fascinating destination in its own right.VIEW LOCATION ON MAP
...and of course there are many other parts of Shetland which feature in 'Shetland'. Including Hamnavoe in Burra, the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale, the 'Halfway House' at the start of the Lang Kames heading north, the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal and Lerwick's Knab Cemetery...
During filming for Series Four, actor Alison O'Donnell (Tosh) was pregnant and so a number of costume alternations and visual tricks were necessary to disguise the fact. She told The Scotsman:
"Yeah, the costume designer is brilliant… shirts with pleats at the back and things in three sizes, so they fit as I grow. But by the end of filming I was six months pregnant and pretty big so I start sitting down a lot, or I’m holding a folder. Classic stuff",
In Series One, Perez utters the line, while seated on a wall near his home in the Lerwick Lodberries, "on a clear day, you can see Norway." He's joking, of course. Even with the strongest telescope, you can't see over 160 miles. And that lovely story (attributed to the late Jo Grimond, MP) that the nearest railway station is in Bergen, Norway is untrue: Both Thurso and Wick on the Scottish mainland are closer - even to Shetland's northernmost point.
Steven Robertson, who plays Sandy Wilson, left school at 16 and worked milking cows before becoming an actor. He was also a violin maker and 'roadie and nannie' for the band Rock Salt and Nails
"I was a roadie, but also looked after the children that belonged to the guitarist and keyboard player," he told The Herald. "They were married and had two kids. So, I was the nanny and the drum tech –all-round general gofer."
Douglas Henshall (Jimmy Perez) has said that if he ever writes his autobiography, it will be called 'Inappropriately Dressed'. He told The Herald:
As an actor you are never, ever wearing the clothes for the weather around you. On occasion I think ‘I’m fed up being cold, man’. But then when the director says, ‘Turn over’ I feel really happy.” Brought up in Barrhead, near Glasgow, the actor has found himself shooting several scenes there, with the Renfrewshire town masquerading as Lerwick.
Shetland may be the most northerly part of the UK but its weather can be surprisingly dry and warm, especially in the long summers with the near-constant daylight known as the simmer dim. Because of this, bad weather had to be manufactured for some scenes during shooting and sprinklers were used to create fake rain.
The series has left its own permanent visual mark on Shetland. The special signs made by TV designers and used to decorate the Wildlife Sanctuary in Series Four have been left in place at the real Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary and can be seen to this day - they have survived the winter gales without a sign of wear or damage.
In the first three seasons of Shetland, there have been a dozen or so murders and that number could soar to 15 by the end of the fourth series, giving the isles a murder rate of 68.2 per 100,000 people — and, if these killings were real, making it 11th on the world’s most deadly places list.
In fact, Shetland is one of the least violent, safest places on the planet. It is thought there have been only two murders in the last half century.