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The majority of reviewers of The Blackhouse rate it four or five stars, and it is very easy to see why. The descriptions of the Outer Hebrides are very atmospheric, if rather bleak, and it is easy to visualise the various locations mentioned in the story. The plot is cleverly told in the first person when the central character, Detective Inspector Finn Macleod, is recounting his childhood on the Isle of Lewis and in the third person when dealing with the investigation into the recent murder that brought him back to the island. However, there are aspects of the novel that I found less enjoyable. There are long passages describing various aspects of life on the islands, which no doubt are quite realistic but some which I found particularly unsettling (e.g. the descriptions of how young gannets are caught and killed). I also felt that the plot lost its way at times with too little focus on the actual investigation of the murder and too much on the back story of Finn Macleod. I also did not particularly warm to Finn's character ... having very recently lost his 8 year old son and facing the breakdown of his marriage in Edinburgh, he appears to very quickly 'forget' them as he wallows in his memories of his upbringing on Lewis and the relationships with the islanders of his youth who still live there. The long descriptive passages slowed the pace of the story down for me while the 'action' sequences seemed too short in comparison. So if you enjoy stories brimming with atmosphere and melancholic reflections of one's youth and self-pity then you'll no doubt find much to enjoy in this novel but if you like your murder mysteries to focus on how the police solve the crime, then you may find this novel a little disappointing.
This five star book is more than a crime/police/mystery story: so much more. It is a joy to read and the author takes you with the characters every step of the way. It begins with a troubled, newly bereaved, policeman being sent from urban Edinburgh back to Lewis, the isle of his childhood. He is to act as the liaison, the link between the mainlanders and the Gaelic speaking natives. Along the way we learn about the life of the policeman on the island whilst he unravels the solution to the murder. This is beautifully done, to the extent the history could stand alone. But of course, the past informs and causes the present. A brilliant piece of writing. I look forward eagerly to the sequel. This book elevates the crime story to award winning literature...or it should.
DI Fin Macleod returns from Edinburgh to the island of his birth to investigate the possible link between two murders. He meets old friends and old adversaries, and is forced to address issues that have remained unresolved or even hidden for seventeen years.
This book is a mix of genres and took a while to get into for that reason. The murder investigation is a contemporary story, written in the third person. It reads like most other good crime novels of today. But Fin's back story, while being integral to the investigation, is told via the first person and at a slower, more reflective pace. I found these switches a little disorienting to start with, which is the main reason I gave it four starts instead of five.
I was recommended to read this in preparation for a trip to the Outer Hebrides. And for this it worked very well. The island, its weather and its nature, is a major star of the book. I look forward to seeing it in real life. And I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys murder mysteries, especially those set in Scotland.
When one has finished a perfectly mediocre book it's a profound relief to find the next one a pleasure to read. " The Black House" scores points on many levels and Peter May is an accomplished storyteller. I expected to read a classic murder mystery but this novel is much more than that. In fact the murder investigation plays second fiddle and is merely there to enable the author to delve into his hero's past. It's a tale full of quiet melancholy as Finn's reminiscences force him to see the child he was and the way fate delivered blows which made him the adult he is. I found the author adept at recreating both the happiness and angst of childhood and the inevitable nostalgia they give rise to, once the character has become a grown-up and has to think back on all the defining moments of his life when he took a path that it might have been better to avoid. The landscape is masterfully depicted and the characters utterly believable. A tale that is both moving and cruel and that won't leave you indifferent.