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The Blackhouse - Peter May

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4 Reviews

Genre: Crime / Thriller / Author: Peter May

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    4 Reviews
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      08.09.2013 13:19
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      First class mystery

      ==Synopsis of the book:==

      Detective Inspector Fin Macleod is finally returning home. After almost 18 years in Edinburgh he is returning to the Isle of Lewis where he was born. However he has no desire to go back but he is required because of a murder that has be committed there. And while on normal occasions other more Senior Officers would deal with it, this time the way the murder has been done bares similarities to a case Macleod has been working on in Edinburgh.

      The dead man was also once known to him and along with his brother used to bully Fin and his friends at school. Now he must go back to the places he once knew well and visit former friends he has not seen in many many years to try and find out who murdered this still unpopular man. And in so doing come face to face with his past and the two childhood friends that once meant everything to him that he left behind and remained routed on the Island without him.

      ==My thoughts on the novel:==

      I found this a very enjoyable and well thought out murder mystery. It certainly was a lot better than I thought and I was very pleased I had selected it. In recent weeks because of studying and harder work commitments I have selected what I consider easier mysteries that are generally shorter and have less depth. But this week I thought it was time I read a more complex story. The result was for me a more satisfying read and one I could really get my teeth into.

      Before I was given this book as a present I had never heard of Peter May. Ok that is not strictly true as I remember the famous cricketer Peter May. But this is clearly not him, so I did not have a clue what to expect from this novel. Peter May is a Scottish writer born in 1951. So far he has written 19 novels, of these there are three so far in this series called the Lewis Trilogy. With this novel being the first of them and it was originally published in 2011. For me based on this novel I would compare his style to Peter James or Stephen Booth.

      This first thing that struck me about the book was it all looked a bit bleak. The cover was grey with no colour and it showed what looked like an old house all on its own. It looked interesting to me and I wondered what secrets this Black House would hold. So I flipped the book over to see the summary of it. This sounded very good and I loved the idea of this Detective returning to his former home to confront his ghosts from the past. Although when I look at this now I do feel in trying to generate interest in the book the author probably gave a little too much away, certainly more than I have done in my brief summary of it.

      I have to admit to not really knowing what is going on at the moment, as I seem to be reading mainly books about Scotland or its Islands lately. As I have read several Hamish Macbeth stories set in the Highlands and also Ann Cleeves stories set on different Islands in Scotland. I do find this Islands history fascinating and I love the way they have developed very differently from other areas of the country. But I think it is pure chance that I have been reading so many of them recently.

      When I started this book I was initially a little put out. I felt I this book was a follow on from a previous story as the main character Detective Fin Macleod seemed in the middle of a crisis. This I later found was not the case, yes he was in a crisis but indeed this is the first in this series of stories. It just felt odd when things I did not know the history of where happening to him. However as I got more into the story I found this did not stop my enjoyment but it kept me wanting to know more about this man and his childhood. Luckily the author recalled stories of this that made sense and allowed you to understand him better and what secrets and important events that had shaped his life.

      I found I really liked the concept of this man coming home after all this time and they way he was not sure what sort of reception he would get. I felt empathy with him as while the landscape basically remained the same the people where so much older. Indeed I found myself wanting to know everything about his two best friends Marsaili and Artair and why they had stayed on the Island and not tried to keep in touch with him.

      The story had a really good feel to it as not only was it a murder mystery; it was also a story about friendship, love, secrets, deceit and lies. It had almost everything and it was very carefully wrapped up so that you could only see what the author wanted you to see. And while all this was going on there was still enough emphasis on the murder that kept you realising that was why Fin was there and that his task was still to find a killer. I am not a man who believes in happy endings in novels but from reading some of this one I really wanted Fin and Marsaili to somehow find happiness as they did together in various times when they were growing up.

      In truth there were not that many suspects within the story who could have done this murder and added to this there was only one person who was upset by this man's death. But by having fewer suspects you could focus better on them and find out more about them and how their lives was also changed by what happening in their childhood. The characters were easy to recognise because not only where they well described by the author but they also their personalities really came across through excellent writing.

      And while I thought a lot of all the vivid detail the author provided the reader with in one respect it was too much. That was the post mortem which I felt was too graphic and left me feeling that there was too much detail here. Maybe some would like it but I prefer to be given a very basic overview of it. Especially as it was not a simple murder but I suppose because of the key point that the murder was similar to one he was working on in Edinburgh it had to be done.

      I found all the way through the story I did not have a clue what direction the story would take. As by visiting his old school friends he would bring to light important events that he had shared with them and you were never sure if these were important because of what happened or if they had an influence on what was to happen in the future. Either way it made for an intriguing read and one I really did not want to end as I was immersed in it.

      With the last few chapters of the book being exciting and where the truth was uncovered. I had not expected it which is always a bonus but it was written in such a way that you never could be sure if the ending would be good or bad. The ending in many ways lived up to my expectation and while not questioning quite all my questions as it left a few possibilities for the next novel in the series, it still left me very satisfied that this was a very well thought out story with practically everything imaginable in it.

      Clearly Fin Macleod was the novels main character and what I particularly liked about him was the mistakes he made in his life. He is very far from perfect and I liked the way he let people down and did some silly things. It just made him human and I liked what he did most of the time as I could see why he was doing it. Although it was not possible until the very end to understand it all clearly. I just wish the author could have shared more of Marsaili's thoughts as she appeared to be a wonderful character.

      The novels length to me was just right to tell a fascinating and very different mystery. And while I have brought up a few small areas that I did not find satisfactory overall I thought it was an excellent story. Based on this I will certainly be looking to read another from this author in the coming weeks to see how it compares with this one.

      ==Conclusion:==

      I think this is one of the best thrillers I have read in a long time. It was superbly written with so much depth and thought that I always felt I was there in the middle of the story. I found myself richly entertained and completely enjoying the clever story all the way through. Any slight disappointments with it do not detract from what was a first class murder mystery and one I would recommend to any crime fans.

      ==Other Information:==

      Paperback Version:
      Pages: 432
      Price: £5.03 New at Amazon
      Publisher: Quercus
      ISBN-10: 1849163863
      ISBN-13: 978-1849163866
      Year of first publication: 2011
      More about the author: www.petermay.co.uk

      Thanks for reading my review.

      This review is published on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my user name

      ©CPTDANIELS September 2013.

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        04.05.2013 23:01
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        Really enjoyable - a great read

        This book was very highly recommended to me by a number of people, one of whom said it was the best book they had ever read! While I wouldn't go so far as that, I feel it definitely deserves five stars and was a thrilling, compelling read right to the end.
        The setting on the Isle of Lewis is remote and sparse but claustrophobic as well, the sense of isolation both physically and psychologically growing throughout. The story jumps from the past to the present - obviously a great tool to keep you reading, but I really love this technique, especially in this story, as you learn that despite the passing of time, the lifestyles and attitudes change little - and why the past still haunts the present. I also personally identified with the main set of characters, as being of a similar age group their lives, both as children and adults, and the path they took in many ways reflected my own.
        While showing a bleak, harsh environment, the book also pays tribute to the island's unique cultures and traditions, and like all really good reads both educates and entertains.
        More than just a straightforward whodunit the book explores many dark places in the landscape and in the mind!

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        07.02.2012 00:33
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        It's not badly written, and there is a story, I just can't think of anything great to say about it

        I recently read this book for my inaugural visit to a book group. I had a over a month to read it, and I nearly didn't make it. I found this book very difficult to latch on to. The book starts with a prologue set in the present day, followed by the first chapter in a second location, only for the next chapter to be elsewhere. I was only a few pages in to things and already I had been pushed from pillar to post with where this story was starting.

        Don't get me wrong, books that follow dual or triple narratives can be great, but please give me a chance to grasp one location, timezone and language before rushing me into another.

        The book is not without redemption, by the end I was pleased I had trudged through the tougher moments and overall there were some very interesting aspects to this book. Its a weird mix of thriller, mystery and romance, with a nice dash of an extreme Island culture.

        Some interesting and dark ideas/themes feature in this book but are just brought to your attention, there is little attempt to consider these matters, in any opinionated way. There is trauma, but no rhetoric. Which felt almost empty to me.

        I'd recommend this book if you want to know more about the Isle of Lewis, but overall I think there are too many books in the world to bother with this one.

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          08.12.2011 17:43
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          A promising start to a crime trilogy

          The Blackhouse is a novel by Peter May, set on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, the first in a series (trilogy according to Amazon) featuring Detective Fin Macleod. Having escaped Lewis at the age of eighteen, Fin is packed off to the island from Edinburgh when a murder is committed in a similar manner to one he has been investigating in Edinburgh.

          The story alternates between the present and flashbacks to Fin's childhood and adolescence, with the present being in third person and the past in first person. Although packaged as a crime novel or thriller, the whodunnit isn't really the focus of the novel. Fin never wanted to return to Lewis, and is frequently confronted by bad memories. The flashbacks help to unravel his past - we get information in bits and pieces, so it is not until very near the end that we learn the full truth of his past. Peter May has structured this aspect of the story very well, so that you are given enough information to whet your curiosity, but never enough to lose the page-turning effect of the story.

          The setting is all important in The Blackhouse - indeed, the Isle of Lewis is as much a character in the story as the people. It is a windswept place, with few opportunities for young people and only beginning to emerge from the hold of the Free Church - it was not long ago that residents could do absolutely nothing on the Sabbath. I am unsure of May's connection to Lewis - there is no mention of it in the mini-bio in the book - but his portrayal of it is certainly not flattering. Houses are derelict, there are few jobs, many have turned to alcohol, and those from Fin's childhood who stayed on the island are sad creatures who appear to have wasted their lives. While this picture of life on Lewis may have some up in arms, there is perhaps some truth in it - many islands struggle now as the younger generations leave for the mainland.

          Saying all that however, a harsh setting is almost a pre-requisite for a crime novel, certainly a Scottish crime novel . The raw beauty of Lewis is beautifully portrayed by May, even though he does it in such an ominous way, as part of the story, that you expect Fin to stumble over a dead body round every corner.

          There are many detailed descriptions of Lewis and its towns and villages, and it certainly seems that May has done his research in order to be able to accurately portray the island - having never visited Lewis, I cannot be sure the details are all correct. I do have to wonder about the accuracy of it all however, as the only reference he makes to Aberdeen is incorrect - he refers to the hospital as "Forester Hills", when it should be "Forresterhill". If the only reference to Aberdeen is incorrect, can we rely on the many detailed descriptions of Lewis?

          Upon opening the book, the first thing I came across was a list of pronunciations for the Gaelic names and terms used in the book - appropriate given that Lewis is a Gaelic community. Glancing at this list I was pleased to see that the pronunciations were largely correct if not always capturing the subtleties of the language, and I was even more predisposed to like the novel when I saw my own name included in the list - it's not often I read a novel with a character in it called Eilidh (May gives the correct pronunciation, which, if you're wondering, is Aylay, with emphasis on the first syllable). You can imagine my disappointment when I learn that although Fin's mother is called Eilidh, most of the uses of the name are for a boat named after her. Not even a big or fancy boat, just a wee rowing boat recovered from scrap.

          The Blackhouse and Peter May are good additions to the Scottish crime canon. Exciting, atmospheric and interesting, The Blackhouse is a very enjoyable read, and recommended to all fans of the genre. I look forward to reading the second novel, The Lewis Man.

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