Author: Peter May
Performed by Peter Forbes
Released on Audible: February 2018 by riverrun
Category: Murder, Mystery, Crime, Drama, Book Review
When a brutal murder on the Isle of Lewis 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.
Set on the Isle of Lewis, the largest island in the Outer Hebridean archipelago off the north-western tip of Scotland, a remote and harsh world where the ancient traditions and way of life are still followed. Fin Macleod, a native Lewis man, now a detective living in Edinburgh, is sent back to the island when a murder is discovered in his own village of Crobost, with distinct similarities to the case he’s working on. The victim is Angel Macritchie, the bully from his schooldays.
Finn accepts the return to Lewis as an opportunity to put some space between himself and his terrible loss and subsequently failing marriage, by returning to what seemed in retrospect, an easier time. But Fin soon realises life wasn’t nearly as simple as he thought and going back means he has to confront the long buried details and torments of his troubled past.
‘And now you’re just jumping at the chance. A chance to escape. To get away from me.’
‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous.’ But he knew she was right. Knew, too, that it wasn’t just Mona he wanted to run away from. It was everything. Back to a place where life had once seemed simple. A return to childhood, back to the womb. How easy it was now to ignore the fact that he had spent most of his adult life avoiding just that. Easy to forget that as a teenager nothing had seemed more important to him than leaving.
I expected a police procedural/crime thriller from the blurb, prologue and gruesome opening, but it turned out to be so much more than that, although it did take a little while to settle in to the narrative style. The story explores Fin’s life, from boyhood to young man leaving for university, in quite lengthy flashbacks (in the first person) between present day events (in the third person), and how the threads all come together, which culminate in Angel’s murder and lead to a terrifying race against time.
Despite my initial misgivings with the structure, I found Fin’s first person narrative to be a strong part of the story and very believable. From his first day at school, the only all Gaelic speaker, with his best friend, Artair. Meeting Marsaili, who loves him from the beginning and whose heart Finn broke when he left. We witness him dealing with the tragic death of his parents and the grim two weeks spent on An Sgeir, through to the time he leaves the island. This, combined with the present day scenario and character interaction, builds slowly to the final shocking climax.
Stornoway – Photo courtesy of photoeverywhere.co.uk
Expressive writing and vivid, atmospheric imagery, particularly Ness and Stornoway, give a real sense of place. Also the frightening descriptions of the uninhabited, brooding and desolate rocky island, An Sgeir, nesting haunt of thousands of seabirds. The small island is the focus of the perilous centuries old annual tradition of guga hunting–twelve men spend two weeks living in unbelievably inhospitable conditions while slaughtering gannet chicks for food to take back home. It’s considered a rite of passage for those chosen to join the hunt for the first time.
It’s obvious Peter May is very familiar with the Isle of Lewis, and evokes the feel of the place and the people who live there extremely well, the small communities, complex and complicated characters, the feeling of isolation and the breathtaking scenery.
Peter Forbes’ narration is superb and really brings the story and characters to life. It’s so much better when the accents are in keeping with the story. I’m so late to this series having only just become aware of it on Audible. Books two and three are downloaded and ready to go. And if these are any indication, I’ll be catching up with a lot more of Peter May’s books!
Peter May’s books have sold several million copies worldwide and have won awards in the UK, the USA, and France. He is the author of:
• the internationally best-selling Lewis Trilogy set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland
• the China Thrillers, featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell
• the critically-acclaimed Enzo Files, featuring Scottish forensic scientist Enzo MacLeod, which is set in France
• several standalone novels including
– the multi award-winning Entry Island,
– Runaway, and his latest, entitled
– Coffin Road, which sees a return to the Outer Hebrides (January 2016, Quercus UK).
– I’ll Keep You Safe (January 2018, riverrun)
He has also had a successful career as a television writer, creator, and producer.
One of Scotland’s most prolific and successful television dramatists, he garnered more than 1000 credits in 15 years as scriptwriter and script editor on prime-time British television drama.
He is the creator of three major television drama series and presided over two of the high- est-rated drama serials in his homeland before quitting television to return to his first love, writing novels.
Born and raised in Scotland he lives in France.