With this second part of his Lewis trilogy (the first being The Blackhouse), Peter May has again shown that he is up there in the top rank of the current crop of Scottish crime writers.
When a preserved body is discovered in a peat bog, DNA testing shows that the victim is related to Tormod Macdonald, the father of Marsaili, Fin Macleod's childhood love. Fin has now left the police force in Edinburgh and returned to Lewis to restore his parents' house and soon gets sucked into the investigation. Tormod is suffering from dementia and although he still has flashes of memory about the events of his youth he is unable to tell the story of what happened in words. However, the reader is allowed into Tormod's mind and through a combination of his fragmentary recollections and Fin's investigations a grim and moving picture gradually develops of Tormod's childhood experiences first in an orphanage and then shipped as a 'homer' to a family in the islands. May's story-telling skills bring this shameful and little known part of Scotland's recent past vividly to life. And again, as in the first novel in the series, the long shadows of the past loom threateningly over the present day.
As always, May's research is meticulous and the picture he creates has an air of complete authenticity. For me, the Lewis novels are shaping up to be his best - it seems he has an affinity with the life and natural world of the islands which makes his descriptive writing compelling. His recurring characters are likeable and their story is further developed in this book. May's handling of Tormod's difficult childhood and present dementia is sensitive and sympathetic. However, he also manages to inject some humour into the story to lighten the otherwise dark and bleak tone. I enjoyed The Blackhouse very much, but I believe this one is even better. I am only sorry that it seems there will only be one more in the Lewis series. Highly recommended.
on 22 March 2012
I loved The Blackhouse, first book in the series. But I did wonder how the compelling past/present intertwining of the main character's story could be continued in the sequel.
Let me tell you, it can - and how. The Lewis Man is even better than the first book. A very poignant story, with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing (and guessing wrong). A fascinating insight into the mind as we grow older and the tolerance required of those around us as we age. A cracking yarn. An involving murder mystery. Events you can believe in, happening to characters you actually care about. (I believe I may even have shed a little tear at one point. Unless it was just something in my eye).
Not for nothing does this book claim its rightful place in 2012's top 10 best selling hardback works of fiction. Buy it, read it. Buy and read the first one too. And when they both finally fall from your numb fingers (because you REALLY won't be able to put either of them down), hopefully it will only be a short wait for The Chess Men, the final of the series.
(Oh, and if you've just been introduced to Peter May by this series, you might like to check out his Enzo Files books and China thrillers too.)
on 22 January 2012
This is a total surprise. It starts out a mystery story, it soon becomes a search to identify who perpetrated a murder from half a century ago, and it's at times over-decorated with passages of scenic description. None of these features are the point, and it's unexpectedly moving for quite different reasons.
Running throughout are retrospect chapters, the unspoken silent reminiscences of an elderly man, father of the detective's childhood sweetheart. He is connected, so DNA tests have established, to the body of a murdered man found preserved in a bog. Is he the killer? Or rather, was he the killer? Now he's suffering from dementia and can barely communicate.
What's remarkable is the extent to which this man is shown to think and to feel, and how he does in his way connect to his immediate world, even while unable to communicate that connection. He feels pain, hurt, pleasure, joy. And all this is rendered simply, cleanly, in prose of total plainness, nothing fancy, and is extraordinarily moving because it stays so plain. Usually it's been film that's given us portraits of the incapacities that can accompany degeneration of the mind - "Iris", for instance, gave us a visual portrait of Iris Murdoch in her last years that was a heart-breaking contrast with how she once had been. What's moving here, though, is something more: Peter May's Lewis Man is still lucid in his thoughts and his recollections while clumsy and helpless as he tries to communicate to the world he inhabits, to the point of unwittingly alienating his wife and many of the well-meaning people who attempt to care for him. It's very Scottish, this capacity to make words and feelings so moving by dint of not exaggerating and not decorating, and opting instead for what appears unemotional plainness. The effect - and it's highly emotional for not trying to be so - is one of sustained intensity. The poignancy comes from the gap between this man's fluent and clear inner monologue, set against and in disharmony with the discourses and chatter that surround him and place him, occasionally but not always registering its kindnesses and its concerns.
This may leave it sounding an uncomfortable read, but it isn't so, not at all. There's nothing didactic here, no finger-wagging or telling us off for insensitivity. The righteous minister who puts in a guest appearance is mainly there for over-righteousness to be mocked. Rather, this book opens a door on the minds of old and disabled people, and indeed all people who harbour a generous lucidity which they can't utter. When novelists of the past attempted this fission or split between inner monologue and outer world, it was usually through giving a poeticism to the inner world, in the manner of Faulkner, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. There's none of that poeticism on show here, and for that it's all the more feelingful and memorable. I'd forgotten the thriller plot by the time I turned the last page (even though it's got an ending with twists and turns in plenty) but I remain haunted by the portrait of solitude it presents. I doubt if I'll ever again be able to regard the old and the feeble with indifference, and ultimately it's given me a larger sense of our world.
Memorable, tender, and warmly recommended!
Some months after the end of The Blackhouse, Finn MacLeod is winding up his life in Edinburgh - his marriage, his job as a police detective - and returns to his emotional home, the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He plans to restore his parents' derelict croft house while living in a tent - pretty brave, considering the Scottish island climate.
Before getting very far in his task, Finn becomes embroiled in a murder case. The body of a man has been found buried in a peat bog. The victim has been killed, probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Finn is consulted by George Gunn, the constable on the island who worked with him on a previous case - the two men hope to find the victim's identity, and hence solve the crime, before specialist reinforcements arrive from the mainland and take over. At first, the task seems relatively simple, because a DNA test reveals that the victim is related to Tormond MacDonald, the father of Finn's childhood sweetheart Marsaili. (That's three coincidences so far, as Tormond was the only man on the island who did not request his DNA sample to be destroyed after the collection made in The Blackhouse.)
Finn cannot make progress, though, because the old man has dementia and is degenerating rapidly. Finn's gentle questioning of him throws up some clues, but not many. The author depicts Tormond very movingly, in particular his fractured internal life, in which past and present are confused. Something about Finn and Marsaili's enquiries triggers the old man's memories, and for much of the book we learn of his childhood. These sections of the book require the reader to suspend belief in the set-up in order to enjoy them, as they are written as if by an articulate, logical person and not convincing as a first-person narrative. On the other hand, the author needs to use this device to pace his narrative and to control when certain revelations occur. If one can overcome this flaw, the story is an emotionally gripping one, about "homers" and the cruel ways in which orphans were treated by the church, local councils and other authorities, in shockingly recent times.
The narrative continues in a leisurely way, alternating between the old man's memories and the present day, where Finn is searching for the identity of the dead man as well as re-establishing old relationships. About half way through the book there is a twist that puts it onto a different footing, and the mystery crystallises, gathering some much-needed pace in the process.
The story is very well told, with a great sense of atmosphere and place. As with The Blackhouse, this novel really cries out for a map, as Finn travels up and down the islands on his quest amid storms and beautiful sunshine, beaches and wild cliffs. It would be very useful for the reader to be able to follow his journey across the various ferries and suspension bridges. The scenery is beautifully described, and the author cleverly includes elements of the traditional way of life, such as the Harris knitters, into his narrative. At the end, there is a double shock climax, which a reader could have guessed from the clues given, but may well not have done in either case.
In sum, The Lewis Man is a readable mystery with a tragic core - all the more so because the events described really did happen to people. It rather strongly mirrors The Blackhouse, in that the former novel is about Finn's quest to learn about his own past; and the new book is about Marsaili's family's past. The third novel, the to-be-published The Chess Men, will I predict focus on the next generation, as there are hints both that Finn will seriously try to track down the hit-and-run driver who killed his son, and that there will be continuing, perhaps escalating, family tensions between the MacLeods, MacDonalds and the Murrays on the Island of Lewis.
on 9 March 2012
Wonderful writer feel the cold wind and the spray in your face, feel the isolation and be absorbed in the tale love the story and the way its told. I shall read all this authors books but will love his Scottish Island tales best.
on 5 February 2012
I thought the first book in this series of three, The Black House was superb. I won't review that here - see the Amazon listing for my and other, better reviews. That book, for me created a mighty desire for more. The problem with sequels is that with such a good first book, you worry that the next books will be a let-down. Partly because your expectations are so high and partly because the bar has been set so high.
This second book is again a murder mystery in name, although again, the murder investigation is but a part of the plot. Although I did find the murder storyline to be more compelling in this outing. The central character, Fin is developed further, as are other characters and this is as just as riveting.
Social history again also features, further engaging and informing the reader. We learn more of islanders' lives, both today and in the past and also the plight of orphans and abandoned children in Scotland. You can see the very differing threads that make up this book, but they are woven together beautifully. The book works on many levels.
So, as you may have guessed, I did thoroughly enjoy this book. But in the final analysis, was it as good as the first? Better, I think. Happily my apprehensions about it being inferior weren't realised. When's the next one out? Could that be even better? I feel confident...
on 16 January 2012
This is Peter Mays second in a Trilogy.Blackhouse was the first.What a super,exciting read.Beautifully written.You really feel as though you are actually there.You experence the adverse weather,and the horror of one of the main characters and you long to get to the bottom of the mystery so you just cannot put the book down.Wonderful,a book you will think of long after you finish.Cannot wait for book number three.
on 8 January 2012
Having read the Blackhouse was looking forward to reading the Lewisman.I couldn't put it down
thoroughly enjoyed it now can't wait for the third book in the trilogy called the Chessmen
Peter May has an affinity with the islands and brings the places he speaks of alive.
on 10 January 2014
Fin has retired from the police force and returned to the island after his marriage has broken down. There he reconnects with his childhood sweetheart, the mother of his teenage son. A body is found in the local peat bog and, rather than being thousands of years old, turns out to be about fifty years old. Tormod is suffering from dementia and in his dreams he remembers the horrors of his childhood, the death of his parents, the difficulties faced in his children's home and the night that a young man's prank went tragically wrong.
For all bar the last twenty pages or so this is not really a detective novel or even a thriller. It is an interesting story about unfortunate childhoods marred by sectarianism in Scotland. Then suddenly sawn-off shotguns appear and a motive for actions is revealed. This book is excellent and only the violent denouement seems to spoil the character developed and the insight into a marginalised and mainly lost culture.
on 29 October 2012
Much more than run-of-the-mill 'tartan noir' pulp fiction, this is certainly page-turning, unputdownable, plot-driven etc., but, more than all that, it is also a novel of real sensitivity and subtlety.
The landscape of the western isles is evoked with love, and their geography, physical and psychological, more integral to characters and action than the usual bolt-on pathetic fallacy stuff we find so often elsewhere.
The central character, Fin Macleod, lives for the reader, a hard yet sympathetic ex-cop driven more now by family and his own broken past than by mere professional duty.
Peter May's finest achievement, though, and it is very fine, is his portrait of Tormod Macdonald, through whom much of the novel is filtered, the past with pin-sharp clarity, the present more faultingly, as he descends into dementia. His embodiment of the book's wider themes of memory, loss, eternity and the corrosive quality of time itself I found deeply moving.
Sometimes I feel like claiming my 20p back; on this occasion I feel guilty for not having paid the full £7-99.
I haven't yet read the others in the Lewis Trilogy, but by the time you've seen this, I will have done!