The Blackhouse by Peter May

I sat up and paid attention when The New York Times Book Review (Marilyn Stasio) raved: “Peter May is a writer I’d follow to the ends of the earth.”  So, of course I added this author to my TBR list.

The Blackhouse was the final in a string of thrillers I read in a row –and, it turns out, I saved the best for last.

The Blackhouse is the first in a trilogy based in the Scottish Hebrides and featuring Edinburgh cop, Fin Macleod.   Finn is sent to his childhood home on Lewis where a grisly murder on the isolated island seems to be a copy of a murder he has been investigating in Edinburgh.

Our detective is somewhat relieved to leave Edinburgh, as he grieves over the death of his young son, while half-heartily trying to prevent his marriage from crumbling.

But first a few warnings:

If you’re at all squeamish, you’ll have to tiptoe through; 1) a full and grisly autopsy, and 2) an honored, traditional, but gruesome, gannet hunt on a small island. 

If you’re expecting a standard police procedural set in the unconventional Outer Hebrides, you’re happily in for more than you bargained for ~~ this thriller has depth and power.

Now that you have read the Book Barmy safety warnings, fasten your seatbelts, because you are in for a great mystery read.

Mr. May is an extraordinary writer, able to take us seamlessly between two narratives.  Masterfully moving from first person to develop Fin’s story growing up on Lewis, and then the third person to tell the current day story– Fin’s broken and disillusioned adult childhood friends, the crime, and its resolution. 

Mr. May has a gift for developing his characters, all of which are remarkable, but Fin is an especially likeable hero.  Having the grand experience of staying in the Outer Hebrides many years ago, I can attest that he also gives the reader unbelievably lovely descriptions of the harsh life in the Outer Hebrides — bleak, windy, and yet starkly beautiful.

 

 

 

 

The plot is a compelling mix of retribution, revelations, and intrigue.  The Blackhouse uses the traditional guga bird (gannet) harvest not only as a pivotal plot point, but also showcases its cultural role in the lives of the island community. Gory certainly, but informative.

High accolades for what turns out to be not only a tightly plotted thriller, but an insightful treatise on growing up, moving away, then coming home — one you thought you’d moved beyond.

From the introduction:

Three things that come without asking:  fear, love and jealousy. A Gaelic proverb

And thank you Mr. May for an absolute stunner of an ending.

There are two more in the Lewis series, guess who found both at the recent library book sale – score!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An advanced readers copy was provided by Quercus via Netgalley

 

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