The novel is set on the remote island of Lewis far off the coast of northern Scotland. This is an area that the author will know well since he spent several years there producing and filming the Gaelic language TV series, Machair. This gives an authenticity to the very strong descriptions of this remote, rugged, weather-beaten corner of the British Isles. In particular, May's description of the annual guga (gannet) hunt is fascinating both in its detail and in the light it sheds on the island community's strong attachment to its ancient traditions.
DS Fin Macleod is sent back to Lewis to investigate a murder that resembles one that took place earlier in his Edinburgh patch. Returning home after 20 years away, Fin is thrown into remembering and re-assessing his difficult childhood and adolescence. The book alternates between the present day and Fin's past and it gradually emerges that the shadow of that past may be involved in the current investigation.
At first, I found the alternation between the present and the past irritating as it seemed to break the flow of the story. However, as the links between the two became clearer, the tension gradually mounted and came finally to an unexpected and dramatic climax. Along the way, May describes a community more inclined to deal with problems internally rather than involving the authorities, a place where the young people are beginning to challenge the traditions and strict religious observances of their elders and where dark secrets can sometimes come back to haunt.
Not a traditional whodunit crime novel, this is more an examination of the why of the mystery and is ultimately perhaps more satisfying for that.