Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Blackhouse by Peter May

Main character: Fin McLeod, a police detective
Location: Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides
Time period: Contemporary, with flashbacks to Fin's childhood
Genre: Fiction, Mystery

Fin McLeod thinks that he's escaped his childhood home in a isolated village on the Isle of Lewis.  He went to university, and though he didn't finish he did become a cop, got married, had a son.  But now his son is dead and his life is crumbling.  And because a particularly gruesome murder back on the island matches the MO of a case he had been working on, he is sent back to his childhood home to help with the investigation.

An interesting choice by the author is to write the contemporary sections in third person, but the flashbacks to Fin's childhood in the first person.  It took a little while to get used to this, but it does mean that we don't have to depend on chapter titles with time and location listed to know what takes place in the present and what is in the past. (Peter May must know readers like me who don't always pay attention to those headings.)  It also makes sure that we don't have any information that Fin doesn't have--for this murder has more connection to Fin than just a similar MO to a crime he's been investigating.

As the book went along, I was so much wrapped up in Fin's story that I often forgot about the murder that brought him there.  The real mystery was what happened to him.  Was it his experiences with the town bully, the bane of every boy's life and the murder victim? Or the romantic triangle between him, his best friend Artair, and Marsaili?  Or maybe that one time that he joined the traditional guga cull on a small rocky island.  (The guga is a bird that can only be hunted for 2 weeks a year and is considered a particular delicacy.)  Somewhere in his past the seeds were sown that lead us to the present crime.

This is a richly drawn picture of life in a bleak and desolate place and the people who stay there.  The wind, the scent of the sea, the smells of the boats and the guga hunt--reading this was a totally immersive experience.  It drew me in and I did not want to leave.  I highly recommend this book.

I read The Black House  as an e-ARC from NetGalley.

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