The Blackhouse/The Lewis Man by Peter May

I’ve recently read these first two novels of Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy, and was swept away by them – to the extent that I finished The Blackhouse and immediately felt I had to read The Lewis Man. I am holding off on the third book for now – The Chessmen – as it is still almost full price on the Kindle store, and I think I need to take a break from them.

The three books are mainly set on the Isle of Lewis. May has obviously done quite a bit of research on the island and its community, and this results in a background that feels very real; although it should be stressed that the plot is wholly fictitious.

I must admit, it did give me pause for thought. Writing crime novels that paint a fairly gruesome history seems pretty harmless when set in an urban metropolis, or a heavily disguised or entirely fictional countryside. But when you set your novel in a very real, and sparsely populated area, do the people mind that their society might be fictionalised as less than wholesome? Especially when other details in the novels – the annual guga – or gannet – hunt is so accurately depicted?

Perhaps this is why the first in the series failed to find a British publisher originally, being first published to much much acclaim in France, before finally finding a British printing.

Anyway, both novels take a similar form – the main story, told in the third person, and set in present time, interspersed with a first person narrative set in the past. The connection is not obvious at first, but resolves towards the end. Fans of Iain Banks will be familiar with the style.

The plotting cannot be faulted, and the story fairly whips away, but not so fast that you don’t become attached to the characters and care what happens to them.

However, I had two problems with the novels. While I don’t intend to give away actual plot points, the comments that follow do give clues, so I’ll put in a spoiler.

In the first novel, we come to the realisation that the main character, Fin, is more entangled in the crime than we (or Fin himself) realise. This is excusable when it happens once – basically, it is Fin’s story, because he *is* entangled. However, when, in the second novel, Fin also finds the clues leading him closer to home, you begin to think you are in the land of Midsummer Murders. The Isle of Lewis is a small community, but not that small.

The author seems to have a desire to end happily (or as happy as you can, where crime is involved). In both novels, this is demonstrated by the crime being solved, and then very quickly any antagonism between the (non-murderous) characters is resolved. Enmities are buried, problems are solved – this is handled so quickly – on the last page – that it comes across as “they all lived happily ever after” – which you know they don’t, as there is another book yet to come.

I may have ignored these issues in a lesser book. It is because I enjoyed these two novels so much that this irritated me somewhat.

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