Just when we think we’ve seen it all, along comes Peter May’s Blackhouse to remind us that terms like unique and cutting edge still belong in the crime novel lexicon. In addition to being a great story, this book is probably like nothing you have read before.
The setup isn’t all that far out. A brutal murder on the remote Scottish Isle of Lewis bears startling similarities to an earlier savage killing in Edinburgh. Police detective Fin Macleod was raised on Lewis, and so is the natural choice to investigate the second crime.
But Fin’s journey into his own past becomes a voyage into the unknown. As we step lightly through this tightly wound murder mystery, we are also dragged into what the author calls a trip into the darkness of the human soul. And that is what sets this book apart.
May didn’t choose this atmospheric setting at random. He spent six years on the Isle of Lewis producing a TV series, and the island affected him deeply.
“I grew to love its stark beauty, its wild and untamed coastline. Its bleak, religious-dominated culture was in stark contrast to the life I knew on the mainland, and became the vivid backdrop to my story. It is unique, I think, in the world of literature, and essential to the telling of the story which could not be told in any other setting.”
The title seizes on one aspect of the Isle of Lewis that just drips with atmosphere. Blackhouses were the long, single-story traditional homes on this little island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. My picture of these stone buildings with thatched roofs carried me to a dark past where peat fires heated homes and choked the residents. The blackhouse of the title is where a group of island men make an annual pilgrimage to perform an ancient rite of passage.
Of course, no book can stand on setting without strong characters. This novel is carried by Fin McLeod, the detective on a journey of rediscover. As Peter May says, Fin is someone with whom we can all identify.
“Somewhere in his past he took a wrong turn which led to tragedy and disillusion,” May says. “Now he is in search of redemption and a second chance, but piece by piece uncovers those things about himself he has spent half a lifetime burying. I think everyone will empathize with Fin because they will find in him the flaws they all have in themselves.”
Peter May is no newcomer to the mystery genre. His journalist and TV script background aside, he is the author of two critically acclaimed series. His China Thrillers are fast-moving stories in an exotic eastern setting. The Enzo Files series conforms to the traditional mystery format, except for their French setting. But May is quick to point out that his latest novel is neither.
“The Blackhouse is a very dark, psychological thriller with a slow-burn story set in a place a million miles from the average person’s experience,” May says. “It was a chance to take my readers on the journey of a lifetime, to a remote, wind-blasted corner of the globe that they will never visit, except on the pages of my book.”
And it appears we will get to visit the island again in the future. The Blackhouse was originally conceived as a standalone, but publishers liked the character and setting so much, they persuaded May to turn it into a trilogy. Read Peter May’s Blackhouse to see what the publishers saw in this dark, powerful novel.The Blackhouse
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