This year I have read a number of books I really enjoyed, but my favourite reads were definitely the three books making up The Lewis Trilogy. Written by Peter May, they are in order, The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen.
My preferred type of crime fiction are books that read more like “regular” novels than your standard crime fiction. They’re about place and time and culture. Instead of featuring crazed psychopaths who are being hunted by some brilliant detective/criminal psychologist, they feature ordinary people who commit sad, ordinary crimes. For me reading how they got to that point, and how the victim and criminal’s paths crossed, is a more interesting kind of crime novel, than a “police procedural”. These are the type of crime novels which the Nordic writers excel in. With The Lewis Trilogy, I feel that Peter May has created the same kind of crime fiction, where the crimes are just the background to a much more complex story.
I had read two of Peter May’s previous crime novels – one from the The Enzo Files series and one from The China Thrillers series – and had not enjoyed them that much. I know that Peter May lives in France, and that he visited China, but in writing books set in these two countries, he still comes across as an outsider. Then I decided to start reading The Lewis Trilogy. From the first book – The Blackhouse – I was enchanted. These are, in my opinion, Peter May’s best works to date. They are beautifully written, describing the Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides, Scotland) on which the stories are set so vividly that I ended up with a map next to me, and looked for photos of the scenery on-line. [Although the web photos were beautiful, a lot of them were taken on calm, bright, sunny days. Not the windy, stormy ones of the books!].
The Lewis Trilogy does a wonderful job of telling the life stories of three generations of islanders, with the middle generation providing most of the central characters. It tells of the harshness of island life – as it used to be and what it is today. The landscape, weather and sea are so prominently featured in the books, that they become “characters” too. It is obvious that the author knows the people and setting he is writing about intimately.
Award-winning Glasgow-born author Peter May is no stranger to the Isle of Lewis, and it shows in every thrilling chapter of this bleak, wild, atmospheric novel. During 20 years in television he spent a good deal of time on the island, filming the hit series Machair. Not only does this knowledge of the place and its people reveal itself in the characters, who seem to blend so effortlessly into the harsh land they inhabit, but May’s background in screenwriting comes to the fore in the dialogue he writes, through which he manages to steer so much of the narrative.
From: The Scotsman
I have noticed a number of authors recently writing trilogies or quartets i.e. three or four books about the same place and featuring the same characters. I think it is a nice format. You do not end up with over-long and confusing novels, and yet there is the time for the author to develop his characters fully. Although it is obviously best to read them in order, the three books from The Lewis Trilogy also work as individual stories. I read one comment by a fan who said they would like to read more in the same series. For me, the strength of the novels is that there is a finite number. I do not know how much serious and violent crime there is in the Outer Hebrides, but there is a risk of the story-lines becoming implausible, just to provide another mystery to be solved.
I would recommend these books to anyone who enjoys very descriptive novels – even those who do not usually read crime fiction. I would not though, recommend the trilogy to people who enjoy action-packed novels!
Fin Macleod, a Glasgow cop, returns to his birthplace in Lewis after 17 years to investigate a gruesome murder. He was the only boy in his class to leave the island to go to university, but as the story unfolds, told partly by Fin as a boy, so do intimations of dark family secrets, brutality and betrayal. What, for instance, really happened 17 years earlier, during the summer of Fin’s departure, at the An Sgeir, the ancient and extremely perilous gannet-culling ritual re-enacted every year (this is fact) by 12 Lewis men on a barren 400ft basalt stack in the Atlantic?
From: The Guardian UK
The Scotsman has a full review of The Blackhouse here.
The Lewis Man
It is a crime novel in that the discovery of a body in a peat bog sets the narrative going, but like all the best crime fiction its interest is not restricted to the investigation.
It’s about the weight of the past, failed relationships, lives gone wrong and the ill-treatment of children. It may also be called a hymn in praise of the beauties of the islands and the miseries of their weather. There is a great deal of description of landscape and the elements, too much perhaps for some tastes, but you can always skim these paragraphs.
The body is first thought to be a couple of thousands years old, because peat preserves bodies from decay. It is only when a tattoo on an arm is discovered that the police realise they have a murder investigation on their hands, for the tattoo features Elvis Presley and his song Heartbreak Hotel, a hit from 1956. DNA will link the corpse to an old man, Tormod Macdonald, but Tormod, now suffering from dementia, is believed to have been an only child with no known relatives . . . continue reading
From: The Scotsman
Fin Macleod, now head of security on a privately owned Lewis estate, is charged with investigating a spate of illegal game-hunting taking place on the island. This mission reunites him with Whistler Macaskill – a local poacher, Fin’s teenage intimate, and possessor of a long-buried secret. But when this reunion takes a violent, sinister turn and Fin puts together the fractured pieces of the past, he realizes that revealing the truth could destroy the future . . .
Summary from: Quercus Books UK
Raven Crime Reads has a review here.
What has been your favourite book this year?