Detective Fin Macleod is mourning the loss of his only son. Trapped in an unhappy marriage and job, he is on the verge of giving up his job in police when his boss dispatches Fin to Isle of Lewis, his birthplace, to investigate murder of a man Macleod had known while growing up on the island. Macleod has fought hard to escape from that island – a place that kept him tied to his past, his solitary and unhappy childhood.
Occasionally a book comes that simply blows you away. The Black House is one such book. It just crept on me right from the beginning. The Black House is first book of Peter May’s much acclaimed Lewis Trilogy. Though designed as a murder mystery it is much more than that. The murder of a man who was a bully throughout his life, Fin was at the receiving end many times himself, opens a Pandora’s Box of dark emotions that Fin has kept a tight lid on for most of his adult life. The story alternates between present day investigation and Fin’s past. May uses the split story lines brilliantly, alternating between present (told in third person) and Fin’s past narrated in first person by Fin himself. As Fin delves more and more into investigation, he realises that somehow his past is intricately linked to the murder.
I do not want to be a spoiler by revealing more. The Black House is a book that you must read. May’s writing is beautiful, something that you rarely find in a murder mystery. (It reminded me of Tana French’s books). The open, brooding windswept terrain of the island is omnipresent throughout the narrative and is itself an important character in the story. The foul weather, vice like grip of church on the islanders and their life, lack of opportunities for growth and frustration of youth, all of this plays part in Fin’s growing up and the plot.
Fin himself may not be a likeable man. He has made mistakes, in his own words always taken a wrong turn at every crossroad in his life. Nevertheless, I came to like him and trust him. He is sincere and his repentance for a wasted life that easily could have been something else is genuine. All the other characters in the story are equally good and believable, every one of them caught in a life whose course is set and there is no going back, only reminiscence, remorse, guilt, anger and frustration for things that were and things could have been.
An important part of the story revolves around the annual trip to the treacherous rock An Sgeir, where selected islanders go every year to kill nesting Gannets. You can read more about this here.
The identity of murderer is comparatively easy to find out but it’s the “Why” that is more intriguing and is deliberately kept under wraps till end, so when the secret is out, it comes as a jolt to reader.
This is a terrific series and the next two books, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen are equally good. Impossible to put down so go grab it as soon as you can.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
My other reviews of The Lewis Trilogy –
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