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on 11 November 2011
I was after an easy read and bought this book as it appeared at face value to be a fairly simple whodunnit murder mystery. Not a bit of it. It worked for me on many levels. There is the murder and it's investigation, which drives the plot forward, but it's the skeleton that everything else is attached to. The central character, Fin is telling his own historical story and the author relates the present day action. This works pretty well, ensuring you don't go wrong as the story dovetails between the two. I was bitten by the descriptions of the island, even going as far as peering at Google Earth to enhance my understanding. (Wish I'd known Crobost was fictional beforehand though.)

The telling of Fin's early life and loves brought to mind Thomas Hardy, both in the style of May's writing and how his relationships seem doomed to complicated failures, the fault of Fin's flawed character as much as the other characters. You wonder if there's autobiographical elements here. There is a sense of foreboding that builds as the book progresses through the setbacks of Fin's life that gives the ending an unexpected feel. I would also agree May builds a real sense of claustophobia, no mean feat in the open, practically tree-less island with stunning beaches and wild but picturesque landscapes. Sub-plots include the changing ways of island life over a 30 year period, Fin's job and the annual controversial guga cull.

So did I get my easy read? Not as I thought. The book was much more involved and demanding that I anticipated. But it so easily draws you in and carries you along. Ultimately much more rewarding than a simple murder mystery. I like to read in the bath and a good judge of a book for me is how much I read at a time there. Cold water and prune-like skin became a problem.

I certainly recommend this book and will look forward eagerly to the next two.
0Comment64 of 65 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
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.
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on 26 February 2011
I've read several of the authors' previous works (from his two crime series The China Thrillers and the Enzo Files) so knew the kind of things to expect - or so I thought. But The Blackhouse is even better.

Peter May's great storytelling soon drags you in to a number of strands. On the face of it, The Blackhouse starts as a relatively simple murder mystery. But it soon becomes much more than that, a tale of rediscovery and childhood memories interspersed with some great descriptions of the harsh landscape and unique way of life of the islands. And the way the author handles the same character in the both present and the past is excellent. I don't usually like childhood growing up stories, but this one kept me gripped.

Typically, the plot is compelling. Right up until almost the last page, you are kept guessing - and wanting to know what will happen next. I read the book over 4 nights and on each the light didn't go out until after 1am. This book is very hard to put down!

Like the previous reviewer said, once it's over and the last page has been turned, you do keep on revisiting the story in your head. And wishing there was a bit more... because it's addictive. I've not actually been to the Outer Hebrides, but I certainly feel like I know the place now.

I understand there's likely to be a second book in the pipeline, so hopefully won't have to wait too long for my next fix.
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on 29 October 2011
The Blackhouse isn't the usual crime thriller. In fact the murder which brings Fin back to the island of Lewis rather fades into the background as he faces up to and comes to terms with the story of his own troubled past. I liked the juxtaposition of first and third person voices. This allowed us to get to know the young Fin well, while at the same time developing all three main characters into rounded people. This was cleverly done, though I did find some of the dialogue between the five year olds a little unconvincingly 'grown up'.

The island comes across as a wild place, battered by gales and rain, but also stunningly beautiful. It is the perfect setting for the story; the brutality of the crimes committed there contrasting with moments of unexpected goodness and kindness.

Poor Fin is shown at a traumatic moment in his turbulent life, and things get worse before they get better. Let's hope that the author will show us other sides to his character and fortunes in future books - and maybe give the poor man a break please!

First time for me reading this author, but all in all a very enjoyable book. Difficult to put down and I look forward to reading more.
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on 17 January 2012
I would have passed this book by but my daughter bought it and read it, she raved so much, I followed suit and read it. It was the most exciting novel I have read in ages, The plot and it's outcome was a page turner, it was book I didn't want to put down and the twist when it came, I did not forsee.

I had solved aspects of the story but not all of it and I love a book that can outwit me and The Blackhouse did. I loved it so much I could hardly wait for the follow up which was released recently and the tradition continues.

I would urge anyone to read this book, I cannot speak highly enough of the content. This is writing talent of the highest calibre. I loved it and as it's a trilogy there is more to come. A real whodunnit, with lots more besides. Peter May is an author I could come to perpetually praise, a gifted author who deserves acclaim. This book needs televising such is the mystery.

I dare you to solve it in it's entirety, that in itself is a challenge to read.
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I'll be honest and say that the setting was what attracted me to Peter May's The Blackhouse. I love the Scottish Western Isles more than anywhere else in the UK, possibly the world, and loved the idea of a creepy thriller set against the backdrop of the bleak beauty of the Isle of Lewis. And it would be unfair of me not to admit that May's portrayal of the island is extremely well-observed and atmospheric (albeit not particularly complimentary). Although undoubtedly meticulously researched, May never throws in detail for the sake of demonstrating this; there is no description or piece of island history that doesn't add something to our understanding of Lewis. It would also be unfair of me not to admit that it's extremely difficult not to keep turning the pages of The Blackhouse: I really did race through this book, which alternates a standard police whodunnit plot with first person flashbacks to Fin Macleod's largely unhappy Hebridean childhood as he is called back to Lewis from Edinburgh to investigate.

Ultimately, though, The Blackhouse just didn't quite deliver. To begin with, I struggled to believe in some of the characters. Fin Macleod is a grieving father whose eight-year-old has been killed only four weeks previously, but simply doesn't seem to remember this with anything like the frequency I'd expect, and although many of the characters are undoubtedly three-dimensional, they seem to move very rapidly from idle chitchat to shocking revelations in a way that I simply don't find credible. Peter May, apparently, begun his writing career in television, and I think perhaps this shows in the way he has written this novel - character development that might have been convincing on screen, portrayed with the right acting and direction, is simply too fast and too jarring here. A subtler, more organic approach would have been more successful. I also found the third-person sections, dealing with Fin's return to Lewis, a little lazy with regards to some pretty basic things like point of view.

The first person narrative is considerably more effective and also far more believable, perhaps because we're given the chance to see characters grow over time. Beginning with Gaelic-speaking Fin's first day at school, where he's told he must learn and speak English every day, and building up to his climactic rites of passage joining the sinister guga hunt, an annual trip to cull gannet chicks on a tiny barren rock of an island forty miles into the North Atlantic, these chapters are far superior to the police procedural plot strand, and certainly give the reader a fascinating insight into an island childhood and the odd claustrophobia of living in a tiny community. Fin's simultaneous dread and awe during the guga hunt (which is a real annual event for the Isle of Lewis) is evoked with particular skill.

However, when the two threads finally come together and the links between Fin's past and the brutal murder of the present become clear, again, we're back to a pace which makes it all seem rather cursory and rushed. There's a jaw-dropper of a plot twist, for instance, but it all seems to be thrown at us in something of a hurry.

There are many good things about The Blackhouse, but just a little more care and attention with character, plausibility and pace would have taken this book from a three-and-a-half star read to a five-star one. It appears, however, that this is to be the first in a trilogy, and I rather wonder if, as Fin's story continues, I'll find the things that I felt were missing from The Blackhouse. Despite The Blackhouse's faults, I suspect I'll still want to pick up the sequel for a long plane journey.
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on 11 January 2012
Really enjoyed this read !!... kept me guessing then all came together at the end .A book that grabbed me from the start, didn't get bored good characters ..setting and local culture incoperated well into the story ..all good....
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on 9 December 2011
After a slow start, this was a really enjoyable, and very gripping book that had me staying up late to try and finish it, with the bonus of an unexpected twist near the end.

The slow start is due to the story switching from Detective Fin Macleod in present day investigating a murder, to him growing up as a child on Lewis, and the respective switch from third to first person this entails. However, once you get used to that and get into the story, it really is an excellent read.

Although the book falls into the crime genre, it's more about the relationship between Fin and the people he grew up with on Lewis, and how their lives have been shaped as a result. The blurb from the book is spot on - "A murder mystery that explores the shadows in our souls".

Incidentally, Peter May reckons it's the best book he's ever written - check out this interview on the publishers blog:
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VINE VOICEon 23 September 2011
I wasn't going to buy this book. The cover and its blurb 'evil lies within' were putting me off as I thought it'd be a Stephen King lookalike. Thank goodness I changed my mind as I haven't enjoyed a book so much in ages. It's not a crime novel [although at least one crime takes place] in the normal sense and is better for that as the police issues aren't handled that well in my opinion. I certainly think the character of the top cop Smith is overdone. So what it is is a going-back-to-my-roots, a facing up to childhood ghosts and as such is done with huge success. No, I haven't been to Lewis either but quite honestly, if you come from any tightly-knit society, you'll recognise the people here and many of the problems. I certainly did and if you're of a certain age, the memories of teenage angst which this book evoke are almost painful. Very well written - the switch between past and present is no problem at all. If you want an idea of the bleakness of the road north out of Stornaway towards the north of the island where much of the story takes place, try going to Google Streetview. Quite an eye-opener! Highly recommended book - I certainly will be getting the next one.
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on 30 January 2012
From the start of this beautifully written and structured novel, I was hooked. Not only do you get a riveting mystery, there is also an alien environment to navigate and this is where the book delivers.

So, we have Fin Mcleod, Edinburgh cop, back to work after a month off through compassionate leave. He is told to return to his home, the Island of Lewis to establish if a murder there is by the same perpetrator as one in Edinburgh. Initially, Fin is not happy with this but sees it as an opportunity to leave his doomed marriage and lay some ghosts to rest.

Fin teams up with DS George Gunn, a straight up and down copper's copper and they build a friendship. It's when Fin comes into contact with those from his past that the tension builds. Fin is an outsider now, and treated at arm's length. Woven through the story are glimpses of Fin's past on the island, told through the first person. We learn of his schooldays, his loves, his tragedies and his friendships. The interweaving of past and present come together at the end in a tumult of emotion, as Fin uncovers memories long forgotten.

The author deals wonderfully with this bleak yet beautiful landscape. I felt I could close my eyes and watch as the sea breeze blew across the fields, such was the strength of the prose. And the raw power of the sea as the Purple Isle took its dirty dozen to the Guga Hunt on Ag Sgeir is a triumph. The guga/gannet subplot was absolutely fascinating, as was the overall backdrop of a community largely given to insularity, yet resilient and proud of their heritage.

A great read - can't wait for the next one.
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