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Blackhouse by Peter May

Blackhouse (edition 2011)

by Peter May

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6806014,050 (3.98)77
Authors:Peter May
Info:Quercus (2011), Edition: UK airports ed, Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Blackhouse by Peter May

  1. 30
    Raven Black by Ann Cleeves (wonderlake)
    wonderlake: Similar settings; Shetlands/ Hebrides
  2. 00
    Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh (tina1969)

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Rating: 3* of five, but just barely

The Publisher Says: From acclaimed author and television dramatist Peter May comes the first book in the Lewis Trilogy--a riveting mystery series set on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland's Outer Hebrides, a formidable and forbidding world where tradition rules and people adhere to ancient ways of life. When a grisly murder occurs on the Isle of Lewis that has the hallmarks of a killing he's investigating on the mainland, Edinburgh detective and native islander Fin Macleod is dispatched to see if the two deaths are connected. His return after nearly two decades not only represents a police investigation, but a voyage into his own troubled past. As Fin reconnects with the places and people of his tortured childhood, he feels the island once again asserting its grip on his psyche. And every step forward in solving the murder takes him closer to a dangerous confrontation with the tragic events of the past that shaped--and nearly destroyed--Fin's life.

The Blackhouse is a thriller of rare power and vision that explores the darkest recesses of the soul.

My Review: This was a huge, long slog of a story, alternating between Fin (the main character) as narrator of his life of unremitting grimness and misery, and third person limited, basically the camera-eye PoV that one would expect to find in a novel by a screenwriter. This made the pace slow for me as each time we shift, I have to hit the brakes or push in the clutch to shift up.

This isn't to say that the author is a bad writer, his prose is limpidly clear. But keep Google open while you're reading, since there are unexplained, untranslated Gaelic words all over the place. There are exciting sea scenes and tense moments of nailbiting stress during the islanders' unique rite of passage for males.

There are also characters who are unnecessary, flashbacks of unconscionable length and questionable necessity, and an ending that will break a decent person's heart...that has holes the size of a gannet in it. (You'll get the joke later.) If the ending is true, and I think it is true to the character and the build-up, the obliviousness of the responsible adults of the island is unconscionable and unpleasant.

Trigger warning for animal rights activists and the tenderhearted towards all gawd's creation, and for child abuse. ( )
  richardderus | Nov 25, 2015 |
I do not like reading series books out of order, but this time it did not matter. This is book 1 of the Lewis trilogy and sets the scene for what follows, but not knowing about it did not spoil my enjoyment of book 2, nor was the reverse true. One of the best things about this book is the sense of time and place, I know a bit about Edinburgh and a bit more about Glasgow, the subsidiary settings; but nothing about Lewis, but this book makes me feel as though I know it very well. The characters are very well drawn and their histories are unveiled for us in elegant flashbacks; the who-dun-it aspects are very good with lots of red herrings and twists and the whole thing moves along at a cracking pace. Highly recommended! I will read book 3 very soon. ( )
  johnwbeha | Nov 18, 2015 |
I read The Lewis Man first, and was absolutely blown away. It has taken me too long to return to May (after an ill-advised foray into the woeful China series).

This is excellent, though without, obviously, the pleasure of enjoying the author's style and approach for the first time. He is brilliant on the shadows cast upon the present by the past, and in his descriptions of the physical effects of aging on the men of the Hebrides.

By the time you've read three of them, though, perhaps, like me, you'll have had enough of the alternating past/present, first/third person narrative.

Really enjoyed it - but can we have something else now, please? ( )
  jtck121166 | Nov 1, 2015 |
A detective story set in the Hebrides. The description of life in the Isle of Lewis is top notch, but the detective/mystery storyline was a washout. The book could easily have been about 150 pages shorter. After a point I was fatigued by the over elaborate tangents and took to skimming chapters to reach the end.

The book held a lot of promise but was, ultimately, a let down. ( )
  nvenkataraman1 | Aug 30, 2015 |
The Blackhouse (the first volume of Peter May's Lewis Trilogy) is remarkable for several reasons. It is a rapid-paced and absorbing who-done-it. It is a brilliant character study of a man haunted by his past. And it is a thoroughly engaging, deeply imaginative and often dazzling piece of writing that makes liberal use of elements of literary fiction to gradually reveal why over many years its varied cast of characters have behaved and acted in secretive and hurtful ways. Detective Inspector Finlay Macleod has been sent to the Isle of Lewis (off Scotland's north-west coast) to investigate a murder that bears a striking resemblance to an unsolved murder case in Edinburgh on which he is the lead detective. What's more, he is a native of the island, and so is returning home about 15 years after he was last there. Fin is seeking common elements between the two murders, and his search is initially inconclusive. But as the days go by he encounters one person after another who was part of his life as he was growing up—school friends, ex-girlfriends, casual acquaintances and antagonists of long-standing—and each adds another layer to the story. The novel is constructed of chapters that alternate between the present (narrated in the third person) and the past (narrated by Fin in the first person), and it is a treat for the reader to slowly figure out why this is necessary. Perhaps the single most impressive aspect of May's writing is how he uses the wild, beautiful and brutally unforgiving setting of the remote Isle of Lewis to reveal and reflect the inner lives of his characters. This is a land that has hardly changed in hundreds of years, where the residents live in the grip of ancient traditions and where people scrape a meagre living from the island and the sea that surrounds it. It’s a place that bestows its gifts grudgingly and stands ready to kill you if you give it a chance. Nothing has come easily for the inhabitants of Lewis, and so it is no surprise that they don't give up anything easily. Peter May doles out the clues to the solution of the mystery in a measured fashion, raising the tension to an excruciating pitch in the book's final sections as Fin gropes toward an answer. Darkly atmospheric and intricately plotted, The Blackhouse is one of those rare novels that satisfies on multiple levels. ( )
1 vote icolford | Jul 24, 2015 |
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That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
- A. E. Housman, “Blue Remembered Hills”
Tri rudan a thig gun iarraidh: an t-eagal, an t-eudach’s an gaol.
(Three things that come without asking: fear, love and jealousy.)
- Gaelic proverb
For Stephen, with whom I travelled those happy highways.
First words
They are just kids.
Marsaili and I went down to the beach at Port of Ness. We picked our way in the dark through the rocks at the south end of it, to a slab of black gneiss worn smooth by aeons, hidden away from the rest of the world by layers of rock that appeared to have been cut into giant slices, stood on end, then tipped over to lie in skewed stacks. Cliffs rose up above us to a night sky of infinite possibilities. The tide was out, but we could hear the sea breathing gently on the shore. A warm breeze rattled the sun-dried heather that grew in ragged, earthy clumps on shelves and ledges in the cliff.
...someone had a fire lit in their hearth. That rich, toasty, unmistakable smell of peat smoke carried to him on the breeze. It took him back twenty, thirty years. It was extraordinary, he thought, how much he had changed in that time, and how little things had changed in this place where he had grown up. He felt like a ghost haunting his own past, walking the streets of his childhood.
... there was an unspoken bond between them all. It was a very exclusive club whose membership extended to a mere handful of men going back over five hundred years. You only had to have been out to An Sgeir one time to qualify for membership, proving your courage and strength, and your ability to endure against the elements. Their predecessors had made the journey in open boats on mountainous seas because they had to, to survive, to feed hungry villagers. Now they went out in a trawler to bring back a delicacy much sought after by well-fed islanders. But their stay on the rock was no less hazardous, no less demanding than it had been for all those who had gone before.
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Book description
A brutal killing takes place on the isle of Lewis, Scotland — a land of harsh beauty and inhabitants of deep-rooted faith.


Detective Fin Macleod is sent from Edinburgh to investigate. For Lewis-born Macleod, the case represents a journey both home and into his past.


Something lurks within the close-knit island community. Something sinister.


As Fin investigates, old skeletons begin to surface, and soon he, the hunter becomes the hunted.

The isle of Lewis is the most desolate and harshly beautiful place in Scotland, where the brutality of daily life is outweighed only by people's fear of God. When a bloody murder on the island bears the hallmarks of a similar slaying in Edinburgh, police detective Fin Macleod is dispatched north to investigate. Since Fin himself was raised on the island, the investigation represents not only a journey home but a voyage into his past, as he attempts to rediscover the life and people he left behind.

Each year twelve island men, among them Fin's boyhood friends, sail out to a remote and treacherous rock called An Sgeir on a perilous quest to slaughter nesting seabirds. No longer necessary for survival, this rite of passage is fiercely defended against all the demands of modern morality. But for Fin the hunt harbours a horrific memory which might, after all this time, demand an even greater sacrifice.

The Blackhouse is a crime novel of rare power and vision. It is a murder mystery that explores the shadows in our souls, set in a place where the past is ever near the surface, and life blurs into myth and history.

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When a grisly murder occurs on a Scottish island, Edinburgh detective Fin Macleod must confront his past if he is ever going to discover if the killing has a connection to another one that took place on the mainland.

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