THE LEWIS MAN
$14.99 trade paper, available now
Rating: 3.5* of five
The Publisher Says: Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times raved: "Peter May is a writer I'd follow to the ends of the earth." Among the many honors received, The Blackhouse, the first novel in May's acclaimed Lewis trilogy, won the Barry and Crime Thriller Hound awards.
In The Lewis Man, the second book of the trilogy, Fin Macleod has returned to the Isle of Lewis, the storm-tossed, wind-scoured outer Hebridean island where he was born and raised. Having left behind his adult life in Edinburgh--including his wife and his career in the police force--the former Detective Inspector is intent on repairing past relationships and restoring his parents' derelict cottage. His plans are interrupted when an unidentified corpse is recovered from a Lewis peat bog. The only clue to its identity is a DNA match to a local farmer, the now-senile Tormod Macdonald--the father of Fin's childhood sweetheart, Marsaili--a man who has claimed throughout his life to be an only child, practically an orphan. Reluctantly drawn into the investigation, Fin uncovers deep family secrets even as he draws closer to the killer who wishes to keep them hidden.
Already an international bestseller and winner of numerous awards, including France's Prix des Lecteurs du Telegramme, The Lewis Man has the lyrical verve of Ian Rankin and the gutsy risk-taking of Benjamin Black. As fascinating and forbidding as the Hebridean landscape, the book (according to The Times) "throbs with past and present passions, jealousies, suspicions and regrets; the emotional secrets of the bleak island are even deeper than its peat bog."
My Review: I gave this second book in the Lewis Trilogy a higher rating The Blackhouse because the amount of backstory was equal, but put in the mind, and the heart, of Alzheimer's afflicted "Tormod Macdonald." This made all the difference to my reading experience. His awful past was a gut-punch to me, and all I'll say about the matter is that the Irish branch of the Catholic Church has a boatload of apologizing and begging for forgiveness to do.
As the complexities of Fin's, Marsaili's, and Donald Murray's deeply intertwined pasts and presents unfold in front of us, accented by the heartbreaking agony for all who love a dementia suffer, the bittersweet nature of aging and its compensatory widening of the inner emotional landscape come into sharp relief:
Getting old doesn’t make them any less valid, or any less real. And it’ll be us one day.Simple, short, and very true.
The landscape of these Outer Hebridean islands is well suited to the story May is telling. The islands are scoured by Arctic winds, rains frequently unexpected and blown horizontally by F4 and greater gales, peppered with decaying ruins of human attempts to wrest a living from this dark and angry landscape. Watching the lives of others spin out of control is a deep and shameful pleasure. This is a story full of that pleasure.
Nor is it devoid of the basic satisfaction of the whole genre: Bad people don't escape their misdeeds. In fact, retribution for past wrongs is the foundation of this story. That healing, forgiveness, and new opportunities for better days are here as well is what keeps this book from being unbearably grim. May's books show that mastery of structure that comes from screenwriting is able to translate satisfyingly to the novel's page and pace.