The Black House
Peter MayA brutal killing has taken place on Lewis, Scotland’s most remote island. Detective Fin Macleod, at home in Edinburgh on compassionate leave, is sent to investigate. For Lewis-born Macleod, the case represents a journey both home and into his past, as he attempts to rediscover the life and people he left behind eighteen years earlier. But something lurks beneath the close-knit, God-fearing façade of the Lewis community, something primal. As Fin investigates, old secrets are unearthed, and he, the hunter, becomes the hunted.
The Blackhouse is a crime novel of rare power and vision. Peter May has crafted a page-turning murder mystery that explores the darkness in our soul, and just how difficult it is to escape the past.
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There’s more than a touch of The Wicker Man in this terrific story: a policeman sent to a distant Scottish island to investigate a crime; ancient beliefs and customs still holding sway with the islanders; hints of a conspiracy of silence and a cover up. But unlike Edward Woodward’s character in the film, Fin Mcleod is no naive outsider. He grew up on Lewis: he knows its people by creed, culture, and their very names. If anyone can find out who hanged and eviscerated local bully Angel Macritchie, it should be him.
And yet, and yet... something is out of joint. Angel’s murder and the earlier one in Edinburgh are superficially similar but forensics quickly establish curious differences. Try as he may, Fin struggles to establish a clear motive out of many possible leads.
As Richard writes here, Lewis itself is marvellously described: the island might almost be a character in its own right with its dramatic scenery, savage coastline and ever-changing Atlantic weather. And May’s description of a centuries-old ritual of sailing to a spike of rock miles out to sea, there to cull seabirds for a rare island delicacy, is gruesomely and powerfully done.
The Black House finishes with a twist I didn’t see coming at all. A cracker from start to finish.
The Black House really ticks all the boxes for a cop-led murder mystery – a gruesome crime (two, actually), a corkscrew plot, a fabulous sense of place, and a thoroughly believable police detective trying to keep his balance as his personal life implodes and his professional one threatens to blow up in his face.
Fin Macleod is an Edinburgh-based policeman who is sent to the remote Scottish island of Lewis. There’s been a bizarre murder there, and the killer’s methods seem to replicate a recent slaying in Edinburgh. As Fin was born and grew up on Lewis, his superiors think he might have an edge and break the case.
But almost as soon as Fin arrives, secrets from his past begin to catch at his heels. The murdered man is well known to him from childhood – he was the school bully, and carried a bully’s reputation to the day he was brutally killed and mutilated. Finn is also inexorably drawn to an ancient island ritual that is about to make its annual appearance; a ritual he himself took part in as a boy and which convulsed his life after a harrowing accident.
Peter May has drawn a gutsy, likeable character in Fin Macleod and the good news is that this is the first in a trilogy to feature him. Keep them coming, Mr May.
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