The Lewis Man is the second book in the trilogy by Peter May set on the Isle of Lewis. After the excellent The Black House, I was looking forward to the return of Fin Macleod and the myriad of island characters encountered in the first book.
In The Lewis Man, Fin has left Edinburgh CID and is drawn back to the island of his childhood with plans to renovate his parents’ derelict croft. A body has recently been discovered in one of the island’s peat bogs and despite the belief that the corpse could be thousands of years old, the discovery of an Elvis tattoo places the murder of the teenage boy in the 1950s. Fin is asked by George Gunn, the island’s policeman, to see what he can discover about a missing teenager from that time and DNA evidence soon links the body to Tormond MacDonald.
Tormond is the father of Marsaili, Fin’s childhood sweetheart, and is suffering from dementia. As Fin delves into the life that Tormond has been so at pains to leave behind, secrets emerge and true identities are obscured. Fin also has to cope with the repercussions of having a teenage son, who is himself a father, and the limitations that island life imposes on those who harbour ambitions beyond those offered on Lewis.
The book was a very good read with once more beautifully evocative descriptions of island life, with this time the focus on the treatment of orphaned and abandoned children in the 1950s. Part of the narrative is written from the point of view of Tormond whose dementia makes him unable to distinguish the past from the present. The treatment meted out to the young Tormond and his slightly brain damaged brother in a children’s home on the mainland makes depressing reading and I suspect is an accurate reflection of the homes that have thankfully now been closed.
I enjoyed the murder investigation although there were some parts when I thought the reader was well ahead of Fin which was probably deliberate but jarred a little. There were also some sections that didn’t quite ring true. Anyone who has looked into their family history would have been able to point Fin the direction of some resources that would have helped him in his researches into Tomrond’s past. Most of which could have been done over the internet but wouldn’t have made such a good story.
But overall the book was an enjoyable read of a time when the harsh physical environment was matched by some unpalatable practices when dealing with orphaned children. And plenty to look forward to in the forthcoming The Chess Men.
The book has also been reviewed by Petrona, Eurocrime and The Lit Witch.
Every now and then you pick up a book that is impossible to put down. You start reading it and then everything else falls by the wayside until the story is finished. Sometimes, however, the quality of writing isn’t up to the pace of the narrative and you feel guilty for a wasted day. This wasn’t the case with Peter May’s The Black House which combined excellent plotting with some beautiful descriptions of the Isle of Lewis . It was a book I read purely because of an excellent blogger review from Maxine at Petrona and I’m kicking myself that I nearly missed it.
DS Fin Macleod of the Edinburgh police is mourning the death of his young son and the breakdown of his marriage. He is sent to the Isle of Lewis, the place where he was born and raised to see if a recent murder in Stornoway is connected to a similar killing in Edinburgh. Fin hasn’t set foot on the Isle since his aunt’s funeral years earlier and the trip is infused with memories from the past and an event that caused a savage break with the island.
There is so much going on in this book that it’s hard to know when to stop with the precis of the plot. It is rooted firmly in the crime fiction tradition. There is a murder, with a possible link to another event and an investigation that takes many twists and turns. The detective has many of the characteristics that we would expect from a lead character, although interestingly no side-kick. His associate in the murder investigation is his memory which propels him into the past. I was very impressed by how the passages in the past were presented. The narrative changes from the third person to the first person and back again, marking the shift in time. This is another book written for the intelligent reader.
The story is wonderful. It describes an upbringing in a time that is almost lost. It wasn’t idyllic given the tragedies in the young boy’s life but the narrative effectively conveys the friendships and feuds that make up a childhood in a small rural community. The description of the hunting of the gugas (the annual gannet hunt on the island of Sula Sgeir) provided an interesting metaphor for the clashing of traditional ritual and modern progress and was also an atmospheric backdrop to the tensions in the plot.
It’s hard to find any criticisms of this book. I suppose the sheer amount of events that happened in the life of Fin almost but not completely stretched the imagination. I wasn’t completely convinced over by the repressed teenage memories that weren’t revealed until the book’s conclusion but again this didn’t detract from the plot. It was a great find and thanks to Maxine at Petrona I now have the second book in the series, The Lewis Man ,to get my teeth into. I just need to clear a day to read it.
Other (universally glowing) reviews are at Eurocrime, Bookgeeks and The Lit Witch.