Author: Peter May
Performed by Peter Forbes
Released on Audible: December 2013 by Quercus
Category: Historical, Contemporary, Murder, Mystery, Romance, Book Review
When Detective Sime Mackenzie boards a light aircraft at Montreal’s St. Hubert airfield, he does so without looking back. For Sime, the 850-mile journey ahead represents an opportunity to escape the bitter blend of loneliness and regret that has come to characterise his life in the city.
Travelling as part of an eight-officer investigation team, Sime’s destination lies in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Only two kilometres wide and three long, Entry Island is home to a population of around 130 inhabitants – the wealthiest of which has just been discovered murdered in his home.
Detective Sime (Sheem) Mackenzie is part of the murder investigation team sent to Entry Island, one of Les Îsles de la Madeleine archipelago in the Gulf of St Lawrence, from the Sûreté de Police.
English-speaking Sime has been attached to the team of French detectives because English is the language of the islanders. When the government of Quebec had made French the official language Sime’s father refused to be part of the mass exodus. Their ancestors had been Gaelic speaking Scots, exiled here, who carved out their place in this once vast wilderness. He had been adamant he wouldn’t be forced to leave.
From the crime scene it was obvious James Cowell’s murder had been vicious. His wife, Kirsty, is the main suspect and the case seems fairly straightforward. She was found covered in blood and claimed an intruder tried to attack her, and her husband was stabbed while trying save her. Inexplicably, Kirsty Cowell seems very familiar to Sime. He recognises her face but can’t place where from. He’s never been to the islands before and Kirsty doesn’t venture far from home. How strange then, that they each have a piece of jewellery with the same symbol engraved on carnelian stone. Even as the evidence mounts against her, Sime can’t make himself believe Kirsty is guilty.
The crime scene investigator is Sime’s ex wife, Marie-Ange, which adds an extra undercurrent to the dynamics of the team. The break up of his marriage has taken its toll on Sime, leaving him with recurring insomnia and with the feeling his life has spiralled out of control.
‘It’s simple, Simon.’ She had reverted to his formal name since the breakup. ‘You do your job, I’ll do mine. Except for when there’s a cross-over we have nothing to talk about.’
‘We’ve had nothing to talk about for months.’
Her voice reduced itself to a hiss barely audible above the wind. ‘I don’t want us getting into any fights. Not in front of my team.’
Her team. A reminder, if he needed it, that he was the outsider here. Her eyes were so cold he almost recoiled and he remembered how she had loved him once.
A feature of Peter May’s books, which I particularly enjoy, is the dual time line. In this case the first person narrative reveals the life of Sime’s three times grandfather though the journal entries he kept, running alongside the current police investigation. His grandmother used to read the journals to Sime and his sister when they were children. Since being on the island and meeting Kirsty, Sime begins to have clear and graphic dreams, during the odd hours he is able to sleep, of his great-great-great grandfather’s early life in the Outer Hebrides and his subsequent removal to the Magdalen Islands.
This historical time line tells of the harsh life of the crofters on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis and Harris in the 19th century. How wealthy Englishmen bought up the land which gave them complete power and ownership over everything and everyone on it. How the crofters suffered near starvation through the potato famine while their landlords lived a very different lifestyle. Then the crofters were served notices of eviction followed by the devastating, shocking and savage island clearances. How they fought, with many losses, and eventually those left were shipped off to Canada to face a nightmare voyage to an unknown land.
I am resigned to the fight. My heart breaks for Ciorstaidh, but I won’t leave my family. Even though I know this is hopeless. I know, too, that before the day is out I will either be dead or on a ship bound for the New World. But I am not afraid anymore. Just determined.
I love this book and can’t praise Peter Forbes enough for his fabulous narration, or Peter May for his wonderful storytelling and thorough research. The journal entries are compelling and brutal, bringing the past to life in a powerful way. As with the other books I’ve read by this author, there’s an incredibly strong sense of place, atmosphere and great characterisations, all evoked with concise descriptive passages. The timelines blend together as the connection between past and present becomes apparent. A complex, emotionally moving and intricate tale of murder, mystery, history and romance.