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The Blackhouse by Peter May - Review

Monday, August 3, 2020

This book was our July choice for my book club, an unusual choice as we don't often read crime novels. Our leader Ceri chose it, and I hope she enjoyed it as she doesn't often enjoy the choices. I liked it, it's a pretty standard crime thriller, but I haven't read anything by Peter May before and would read something else by him. 

The book is set on the Isle of Lewis off the coast of Scotland. Detective Fin Macleod grew up there, but now lives in Edinburgh. Just prior to the start of the book, he has lost his 8 year old son, Robbie, and his marriage to Mona is falling apart. He is called back to Lewis because a man has been murdered there, and the murder bears a resemblance to one in Edinburgh Fin is working on. 

The man murdered was Angel Macritchie, someone Fin grew up with and who was a horrible bully at school. He has no shortage of enemies on the island, including a local religious minister, Donald, and Fin's childhood best friend, Artuir. Fin starts to investigate. He hasn't been back on the island in eighteen years, and memories and childhood traumas begin to rise up in Fin. 

Interspersed with this narrative are parts told from Fin's point of view, telling the reader about his childhood on the island. These parts skip backwards and forwards in time which I found sometimes confusing and sometimes just irritating, but it does kind of make sense why because of how it reveals things to us. I found these parts quite moving, especially the parts where Fin is bullied, and the bits about the old Gaelic language and ways of life, which I found interesting too. 

At school for the first time Fin meets Marshaili, a girl who he ends up infatuated with for the rest of his childhood and time on the island. I really liked her and would have liked more interaction with her in the modern narrative with Fin back on the island. Artuir's father, Mr Macinnes, tutored Fin in order to get Fin good exam results and off to Glasgow to go to university. In Fin's last summer on the island, he is invited to go along with eleven other men to An Sgeir, where the inhabitants of the village of Ness go to cull baby gannets which are eaten as delicacies on the island. This bit was so well done - I could picture the rock perfectly and it was extremely creepy and used the setting brilliantly.

I thought the ending was a bit of a let down. I would have liked more hints about the twist throughout the book, and I felt like the denoument wasn't long enough. I also didn't really like Fin very much. I thought that the stuff about him having lost his son just a month before didn't ring true - it felt like it was longer ago and like Fin had dealt with it, rather than him being still mired in grief. 

I'm giving this three and a half out of five. I didn't hate it, and it'll be an interesting discussion later in July with my book club, but I didn't love it either.

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