19 December 2011

Review: THE BLACKHOUSE, Peter May

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 505 KB
  • Print Length: 386 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1849163842
  • Publisher: Quercus (February 3, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004MYF4SS
  • Source: I bought it - however a review copy was also sent to me by Pan Macmillan Australia.
Product description (Amazon)
The Isle of Lewis is the most remote, harshly beautiful place in Scotland, where the difficulty of existence seems outweighed only by people's fear of God. But older, pagan values lurk beneath the veneer of faith, the primal yearning for blood and revenge.
When a brutal murder on the island bears the hallmarks of a similar slaying in Edinburgh, police detective Fin Macleod is dispatched north to investigate. But since he himself was raised on Lewis, the investigation also represents a journey home and into his past.
Each year the island's men perform the hunting of the gugas, a savage custom no longer necessary for survival, but which they cling to even more fiercely in the face of the demands of modern morality. For Fin the hunt recalls a horrific tragedy, which after all this time may have begun to demand another sacrifice.
The Blackhouse is a crime novel of rare power and vision. Peter May has crafted a page-turning murder mystery that explores the darkness in our souls, and just how difficult it is to escape the past.

My take

It does not surprise me that THE BLACKHOUSE has won two French literary awards. The book is compelling reading and the story is delivered in an unusual style.

And yet it was a novel that took me a little effort to break into. A prologue contains the hook: a young couple discover an eviscerated body hanging in a boat shed in the harbour. Once we are into the book proper it takes a while to piece together the tragedy that struck Fin and Mona MacLeod only four weeks earlier and that is now steadily coming between them. In the mix are nightmares that Fin barely remembers and does not understand. A recurrent nightmare from childhood.

The murder on the Isle of Lewis seems to have the same MO as the Leith Walk case in Edinburgh Fin had been investigating before tragedy struck. Now his boss is insisting Fin return to work, and the HOLMES computer has tagged Fin as a person to be attached to the Lewis enquiry. It is 18 years since Fin left Lewis to go to University in Glasgow and going back will mean letting his past catch up with him, and indeed Fin catching up with his past. The fact that he is an "insider" allows Fin to ask questions that an incoming investigative team would not even have thought of.

I was particularly struck by the structure of THE BLACKHOUSE. The author uses two "narrators". There is the third person narration where events involving Fin are described from an outsider's viewpoint, and then Fin's reminiscences and memories which are recounted in the first person. This division is particularly effective in giving the story pace at the same time as giving us Fin's life story.

This is a book where the setting almost becomes another character - whether it is the Isle of Lewis which seems remote enough for me, or the even remoter An Sgeir, three hundred feet of storm-lashed cliffs rising out of the ocean fifty miles to the north-north-east of the tip of Lewis, where the annual guga hunts take place. And yet there is something attractive about the author's description of these wind-swept locations that makes you want to see for yourself.

My rating: 4.7

Peter May's website tells us this is the first of a trilogy and I look forward to the next. So here is an opportunity to get in on the ground floor, so to speak. I suspect reading THE BLACKHOUSE will be important to reading the next.

Another review to check: Amanda Gillies on EuroCrime who seems to have matched my delight in this book.

Other reviews on MiP of Peter May books


Maxine Clarke said...

Interesting review. I have been in two minds whether to read this book, it has been hyped over here which is often a bad sign. But have read several reviews that are positive so maybe will give it a go, so long as it is not too "Wicker Man"!

Kerrie said...

I think you are thinking of VIRTUALLY DEAD Maxine. Nothing like that. No Second Life stuff

Koffix Blocker said...

The problem I ultimately had with this book was that the solution is not based in reality. People do not forget [not saying what, spoiler] if they endured an experience like that. It just doesn't happen.


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