The Blackhouse by Peter May

If you like mysteries set in remote locations in the United Kingdom, brooding weather, a tortured detective, a hostile boss, family secrets and some gritty forensic scenes, then, like me, you’ll love this book.

The setting is the Isle of Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides and the weather is obligingly nasty. Fin Macleod was born and raised on the island, but left as soon as he could and has returned only once in eighteen years, for a family funeral. But now he’s been assigned to work a murder case in Lewis that may be connected to an unsolved case in Edinburgh, where he is a police detective. Unhappy with his assignment, Fin has to deal with the resentment of the detective in charge of the case and the strong feelings his return stirs up among the islanders and within himself.

As Fin investigates he is reminded of incidents from his childhood, many of them painful. Peter May makes an interesting choice in structuring the novel. Fin’s childhood memories are told in the first person; the sections of the book dealing with the murder investigation are told in the third. The reason for this unusual (to me, anyway) shift becomes clear at the climax of the story, which I don’t want to spoil by going into too much detail. Suffice to say it involves a charged confrontation in a physically dangerous setting where motives become apparent and the landscape reflects the turmoil of all the emotions laid bare.

I liked the character of Fin Macleod and was largely happy with the plotting (it felt a little rushed at the end, but that may have been because I was turning the pages so fast). I especially recommend this book for its fine use of setting and atmosphere. The island of Lewis is described beautifully and I saw the people, the streets, the blackhouses and the land. The scenes depicting an ancient Lewis custom involving twelve men braving the sea to hunt birds on a remote island are particularly gripping.

The Blackhouse did not have an easy road to publication. It was rejected by British publishers before a French publisher read it, loved it, translated it, and released it to acclaim in France. Only then was it published in England. You can hear the full story from the author on youtube.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

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