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Blackhouse by Peter May
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Blackhouse (edition 2011)

by Peter May

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6385615,162 (4)74
Member:Sonny_Bramblett
Title:Blackhouse
Authors:Peter May
Info:Quercus (2011), Edition: UK airports ed, Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

Work details

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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Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
The Blackhouse (the first volume of Peter May's Lewis Trilogy) is remarkable for several reasons. It is a rapid-paced and absorbing who-dun-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 and beautiful and brutally unforgiving setting of the remote Isle of Lewis to reveal and reflect the inner lives of his characters. This is a place 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 wild and beautiful place that bestow its gifts grudgingly and stands ready to kill you if you give is a chance. Nothing has come easily for these people, 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. ( )
  icolford | Jul 24, 2015 |
The man May does know how to write, how to conjure up a scene, bring characters to life and build a plot. And, his research is spot on. ( )
  AntT | Jan 24, 2015 |
Fin Macleod is a brooding, impulsive detective, investigating a horrific murder in Edinburgh, and recovering (or not) from the death of his 8 year old son and the unraveling of his marriage.

Word comes from the isle of Lewis in the northernmost Hebrides of a similar murder, and Fin is sent back to the island where he grew up, suffered a number of tragedies, and has only returned once in 20 years.

Fin is the main character, but the Isle of Lewis, perhaps most famous for the viking Lewis chess set discovered there, might as well be. Cold and hostile, you can feel the wind howling across the machair (the peat fields), smell the peat fires burning, and ride the mountainous seas that the Islanders cross for the annual pilgrimage to An Sgeir, a barren, rocky cliff/island, where the Guga birds are slaughtered for the annual feast.

The Blackhouse is named for the ancient rock houses that dot the island, mostly now ruins rather than a place to live. The book is long, but revelations come hard and fast the entire book, each a bit darker than the previous one, until the book crashes on the events that transpired, then and now, on An Sgeir. May captures the casual cruelties of children and how those resonate throughout a lifetime.
Between revelations we're treated to May's gorgeous prose that captures the look, the feel, the smell and the cold of Lewis.

You're in for a treat. ( )
1 vote viking2917 | Jan 18, 2015 |
This was an OK detective story. Way more "background" relative to the investigator's boyhood, though germaine to the story, than I would have liked. Could have been condensed, and not lost anything. ( )
  junebedell | Jan 2, 2015 |
This was recommended by a few people, but I avoided it because it seemed dark and grim. One more recent recommendation prompted me to give it a try. Is it dark and grim? Yes, but the characters, story, and landscape made it worth it. ( )
  KrisMcG | Dec 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
For Stephen, with whom I travelled those happy highways.
First words
They are just kids.
Quotations
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.

A MURDER

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

A SECRET

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

A TRAP

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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