Sunday, August 17, 2014

REVIEW: The Blackhouse by Peter May

The Blackhouse (Lewis Trilogy, #1)The Blackhouse by Peter May
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2012?  [I’m very confused about the pub history for this book – I’ve read in various places that it was published in 2009, 2011, 2012, it won the 2013 Barry Award and then it was offered as an ARC on NetGalley so who knows!]
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller
Series: Lewis Trilogy #1
Format: Advanced Reader Copy provided for free through Net Galley in exchange for a fair review.
Narrated By: NA

Fin Macleod has had a tough life. He’s just lost his son to a hit and run and his boss in the Edinburgh PD is forcing him to come off leave to go back to a home he hasn’t been able to face for 18 years. Home is the Isle of Lewis, part of the Outer Hebrides off of Scotland’s Northwest coast and it holds many mixed memories for Fin.

In The Blackhouse, we read about Fin’s investigation of an old adversary’s murder which bears a striking resemblance to a murder in Edinburgh. This mystery gives the book its framework but the real story is about Fin’s rather tragic childhood in an insular community and its ripple effect on the present day. If there is anything unbelievable about the book it is that Fin remains relatively well adjusted considering the amount of woe that was heaped on his childhood’s head. I thought that the dual narratives worked pretty well and the way they were sewn together was smoothly and convincingly done.

I’ve always romanticized the idea of living on an island and being on such intimate terms with the sea but my fantasies are no match for the bleak though believable picture painted by Peter May. He emphasizes the poverty, not just of money but of color and trees among other things. The only things the islanders seem to have plenty of is howling wind, gray skies and religion. The descriptions of the Guga or Gannet harvest are fascinating and detailed and give insights, along with the islanders continued use of Gaelic, into how the culture on the islands is trapped somewhere between the past and present. The portrayal of the Isle was one of the strengths for me though I don’t know how accurate it is. It felt real.

Final Verdict: A pretty standard British mystery/thriller (and I mean that in the best sense) elevated beyond ordinary by the setting and the intimate nature of the mystery so that it becomes part coming of age story as well. I will definitely be picking up the other two books in the trilogy.


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