The Lewis Man is the second book in the fabulous Lewis Trilogy by Peter May. I listened to the audiobooks (this one relaesed in 2012), performed brilliantly by Peter Forbes.
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.
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.
Fin’s hunt for the truth as he traces Tormod’s past takes him down through the islands of the Outer Hebrides to southern tip. Interspersed with Tormod’s recollections, set against his struggle with a dreadful disease, it’s an emotional journey with several surprising revelations. It’s easy to invest in, and become involved with, the characters. The Lewis Man is another compelling, moving and very well written mystery with more evocative landscape representations. So much so, I purchased the companion book entitled Hebrides, full of stunningly beautiful photography by David Wilson with accompanying text by Peter May, as we follow in Fin’s footsteps on his journeys through the islands, from the places and buildings depicted in the books, and incorporating island life. (I want to live in ‘Morag’s’ house!)
A MAN WITH NO NAME
An unidentified corpse is recovered from a Lewis peat bog; the only clue to its identity being a DNA sibling match to a local farmer.
A MAN WITH NO MEMORY
But this islander, Tormod Macdonald – now an elderly man suffering from dementia – has always claimed to be an only child.
A MAN WITH NO CHOICE
When Tormod’s family approach Fin Macleod for help, Fin feels duty-bound to solve the mystery.