The Black House
by Peter May
An August, 2014 release
The Outer Hebridies lie off the Northwestern shores of Scotland. One of the northernmost islands is named Lewis Island. At the northernmost tip of the Isle of Lewis is the port of Ness and the town of Butt. They lie north of 59 degrees north latitude at the very edge of the European continent. Lewis Island, setting for the novel, is an isolated place of almost two thousand square miles and 26,000 souls.
Ruins on the island indicate settlements going back thousands of years. The inhabitants are farmers or crofters and they also harvest peat. It is from this setting the author’s latest protagonist arises, Fin McLeod is a policeman with Edinburgh Law Enforcement. He’s investigating a brutal murder involving substantial desecration of the body when word arrives of a similar murder in Butt. McLeod was born and raised in the town so it’s logical that he should be sent to the Isle of Lewis to try to determine if there is a connection between the two killings.
Angus (Angel) Murdo has long been the town bully and Fin well-recalls his youthful confrontations with the man. But Angel Murdo has been found murdered and partially disembowled, hanging from a rafter in a shed near the harbor. McLeod is seen as an interloper by local police and he’s uncomfortable in the role. It’s also been nearly two decades since he’s been home.
The novel moves back and forth in time as Fin McLeod interacts with people and locations from his past while searching for the killer of a man McLeod disliked. The novel is packed with emotional scenes of recollection, physical action and reaction. The author is skilled, the pace of the novel is relentless and it’s a wonderful reading experience leading to a not-unexpected conclusion. Yet this reviewer wished at times for a little more relief from the gloom and depression and I wonder about just how personal this novel, in a long run of highly accomplished books, might be.