Author: Peter May
Performed by Peter Forbes
Released on Audible 2012 by Quercus Publishing
Category: Crime, Mystery, Murder, Drama, Audiobook, Book Review
A body is recovered from a peat bog on the Isle of Lewis. The male Caucasian corpse is initially believed by its finders to be over 2000 years old, until they spot the Elvis tattoo on his right arm. The body, it transpires, is not evidence of an ancient ritual killing, but of a murder committed during the latter half of the 20th century.
On the Isle of Lewis peat cutting is considered a social activity, with families, friends and neighbours all joining in and working together. Trenches are dug and the peat cut and stacked as it has been for centuries. Only this time the peat cutters uncover more than they bargained for when an almost perfectly preserved body is discovered. Initially the police surgeon thinks the body could have been there for hundreds of years, it was only when a tattoo becomes visible they realise the young man had been murdered much more recently.
On this storm-lashed island three hours off the north-west coast of Scotland, what little soil exists gives people their food and their heat. It also takes their dead. And very occasionally, as today, gives one up.
After quitting the police force and the finalization of his divorce, Fin Macleod’s life in Edinburgh has ended. There was only one place he could go now–back home to Lewis. He would rebuild his parents’ derelict croft, try to repair his relationship with Marsaili and hopefully get to know his son and build a relationship.
Fin’s plans are put on hold when it transpires the DNA taken from the body in the bog is a match to Marsaili’s father, Tormod Macdonald. Tormod had always maintained he was an orphan with no siblings or relatives. Elderly now, and suffering from advanced dementia, Tormod’s short term memory comes and goes but his recollections of the past are clearer. As in The Blackhouse, Peter May reveals the story in alternating chapters – from Tormod’s perspective in the first person, we gradually learn of his past life, and Fin’s third person, present point of view deals with how the mystery is unraveled. Tormod’s chapters are extremely poignant, dealt with sympathetically, and throw light on the heartbreaking and cruel way orphaned and abandoned children were treated in the 1950s.
It was our last view of what I came to think of as the free world, because when we crossed that threshold we left all comfort and humanity behind, and entered a dismal place where the darkest side of human nature cast its shadow on us.
There are many layers to this story and much to be revealed. And again, so much more than the investigation into what, in reality, amounts to a cold case. Peter May crafts his characters impeccably, with depth, feeling and humanity. Tormod is portrayed particularly well and realistically. The expressive descriptions of life and the landscape, past and present, give an incredibly atmospheric sense of place along with the struggle to survive in sometimes harsh environs under the domination of a merciless religion.
As they reached the summit of Uabhal Beag, the landscape changed again. Granite rock broke up green-covered hills that swooped down in folds and gullies through a wash of pale spring sunlight to the fabulous golden sands and turquoise sea of Luskentyre.