October 18, 2013

The Blackhouse, The Lewis Trilogy #1 - Peter May

Title: The Blackhouse, The Lewis Trilogy #1
Author: Peter May
Publisher: Quercus
Release date: 2011
Pages: 502

*Alcohol and teenage hormones. Fin felt certain that these girls had no idea just how dangerous a cocktail that could be. Smiles on pale faces that flew past rain-streaked windows. Lives headed on a course that non of them could predict but which were, at the same time, utterly predictable.*

A brutal killing takes place on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland: a land of harsh beauty and inhabitants of deep-rooted faith.

A murder
Detective Inspector Fin Macleod is sent from Edinburgh to investigate. For Lewis-born Macleod, the case represents a journey both home and into his past.

A secret
Something lurks within the close-knit island community. Something sinister.

A trap 
As Fin investigates, old skeletons begin to surface and soon he, the hunter, becomes the hunted.

*But the one thing Fin had learned from his years in the police was that however much you believed you had them figured out, people invariably surprised you.'

On the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland, a man is found hanging in a boatshed. When it turns out that it was not suicide and that a connection is made with another murder committed in Edinburgh a few months earlier, Fin Macleod is sent to investigate. His superiors have decided that it is the right moment for him to go back to work after the tragedy that affected his life. Since he grew up on Lewis, his background can only be of help to the investigation... apart from the fact that Fin took the fist opportunity to leave the island and not return...
After a rapid, short beginning with a vivid description of the crime scene, the pace slows down to enable the reader to discover the surroundings. Peter May draws us into the strange atmosphere of Lewis Island, its strong traditions – especially that of gannet hunting – and way of life... It is Scotland, but life there is somehow completely different from life on the mainland; progress is slow and there are few opportunities for the inhabitants. It is a strange feeling that we can experience in the first chapters already. There seem to be a clear difference between the people of the island and those of mainland Scotland; between the people who have been living their whole lives on Lewis and those who, like Fin, left and did not come back...
As the investigation goes on, we learn more about Fin’s childhood. It was hard to leave, but it is even harder to forget. Sometimes, it is a place which brings back his memories; sometimes it is a person he knows... One chapter tells us about the past, the next one about the present. This makes the development of the plot extremely interesting and balanced, and the shift of tenses in the writing helps us understand the chronology correctly.
Peter May’s style is nice and easy to read. He changes from poetic descriptions to detailed scenes of action, keeping a good amount of suspense until the very end, when everything finally comes together.
Quickly, we grow attached to the characters or, on the contrary, start to hate them. Many of them are described in the past as well as in the present, which makes it all the more interesting as we can see how they have evolved through the years. Their personality is built little by little and we are invited to make our own assumptions of who the murderer is... which is not an easy task.
The plot itself first seems easy, but it soon turns out to be rather complex and full of unexpected twists and turns. This seemingly stereotypical and simple society will probably surprise most of the readers by its silence and secrets. Many might find the end a little confusing at first sight, because everything suddenly happens so quickly; it is difficult to realise that the story is over – already.
The Blackhouse is an amazing crime book which kept me enthralled all through the pages. I liked the characters, I liked the – sometimes dark – Scottish scenery, I liked the plot and, above all, I liked the atmosphere which accompanies the characters through the plot... I am looking forward to reading the next two books of the Fin Macleod’s series, The Lewis Man and The chessmen.

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